A Farewell to the Leader of the Band

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    SPARTA-The last song the fourth-grade chorus at Helen Morgan performed at the spring concert was entitled ‘Don‘t Let the Music Stop.' A fitting finale for an outstanding career. The song was appropriately chosen by music teacher and choral director Billie Blakeney, who, after 33 years, plans to retire, hanging up her funny hats and other props she's used over the years to creatively teach, entertain, and share her love of music to her students. The chorus performed two concerts this spring, allowing both students and Blakeney to showcase their talents and hard work. "There was just so much that we did, that I thought the extra concert and the tea for the parents and the children would express my appreciation for their commitment to the three-days a week - 7:30 a.m. rehearsals," said Blakeney, who also believes the events gave her some much needed closure on her teaching career. Hired as Miss Mezzo in 1972 by then principal Jim Smilor, Blakeney recalled how nervous she was in her new position. "I was a wreck at my first concert. I had some big shoes to fill. I replaced Melva Cummings, whose concerts were major productions. I felt clueless." Over the years, Blakeney's nerves settled into her own creative energy performing more than 60 successful concerts over the past three decades, ending most with the words, "I think that was the best concert ever!" Her class was her stage and the students her audience. "To make them laugh was the best gift of all," said Blakeney. "Music is a community and you build that community through the camaraderie of a shared experience, without needing to acknowledge any differences in one another." Blakeney has seen her share of changes throughout her tenure. She's witnessed physical changes to the building, growth within the town, and has worked under the leadership of eight principals and some five school superintendents. She remembers the fire at Alpine School that resulted in split sessions for Helen Morgan students in order to accommodate the students affected. In 1992 an armed bank robber held police at bay in the school's parking lot, during school hours. Before she was given a class of her own, Blakeney taught music ‘on a cart,' wheeling down the halls from one classroom to another. "Art, gym, instrumental, we were all on a cart back then. Behind the stage is where we kept our equipment, and considered that our office." Blakeney never had children of her own, but considers all the students she's taught as "her kids." The staff at Helen Morgan will be sorry to see her leave. Dennis Tobin, the school's principal, is not only thankful for Blakeney's dedication but truly believes she has made a difference in the lives of the students she's taught. "Mrs. Blakeney not only shared her vast knowledge of the music field with her students, but more importantly, she instilled a love for music that I am sure they will carry with them for the rest of their lives," stated Tobin. Blakeney believes a little girl in Judy Erianne's class summed up her career the best by saying, "Mrs. Blakeney, you're so funny, you're just hysterical." "I'll miss Helen Morgan. The staff is so supportive of one another, especially in down times. Everyone here is very uplifting. You really feel like it's a family," said Blakeney. How will the beloved music teacher spend her retirement years? "Doing anything I want, that's how…"