A Final Note from Mr. Lunsford

Margie Muller Staff Writer As usual, it was hot on the stage, especially standing on the top riser. The air conditioning hadn’t been turned on, and the lights made us sweat. While we waited for the first song, I couldn’t help but wishing it was over and I didn’t have to worry about falling. Something was different though. A gravity that hadn’t been there before. I had expected it in the days leading up to the concert, but it was a little relieving to be in the midst of it and not feel so uneasy. I anticipated the opening notes of “A Girl’s Garden” and the cue to begin. When they came, however, I was a little flustered. I fumbled through the opening words and felt my throat tense. It was Mr. Lunsford’s last concert at Latin. His departure was suddenly imminent in my mind. Now, I had more to be concerned about than just passing out from sudden heat stroke onstage. There was a sadness growing in my heart, weighing me down and choking me as I sang. Goodbyes aren’t my favorite thing, to say the least. I dreaded the moment I had to say my final farewell. Mr. Lunsford has been teaching at Latin since 2005. Since then, he has established his standing on excellence in music and the arts. He organizes not only the middle school and upper school choruses, but also leads Romanettes, Latones, and Student-Faculty chorale. Clearly, he has had an amazing workload during his time at Latin. This year, he decided, would be his last. *** Margie Muller (MM): Why are you leaving? Mr. Lunsford (JL): Well, family reasons. My wife’s mother is in need of care and her sister is in need of care. We’ve been doing it for the past two and a half years because we’ve been kind of doing it long distance because they live—I’d say it’s the west suburbs. It’s a lot farther than that. It’s west of the Fox River. My wife was going on weekends frequently from Friday morning she’d go to work and go directly from there and not come back until Sunday. So, she’s frequently gone and it turns me into a single dad. It’s just—it’s tough. We decided we had to do something. Wasn’t sure what…our house certainly isn’t big enough to take both of them in. So, family issues. And I’ve been doing this twenty-five years. I feel like I’m not spending enough time with my son and I look forward to coach his pony league team and I want to spend more time with him on music. He sings in two choirs and plays percussion in the band and so he’s very musical. And I want to be able to spend more time nurturing that with him. And the other side of the coin is that I’m leaving here. I love it here. The kids are great. You know, I’ve taught everywhere from a place like this to the Mexican border in a border town and in the Barrio and in a college town. Kids are kids and they’re great all over. And they have been here too. Even when I started I was a little…leery. Was I gonna be troubled by any sense of entitlement or superiority? It was there in the back of my mind. But that was not the case at all. And the parents have been so supportive and helpful and kind. The program here is hard because the academic curriculum has so many requirements that it’s tough for any student to continue in the arts and be able to fit it in as an elective over numerous years. Both in band and choir, more than any other area, it requires that continuity. So we’re always sort of rebuilding. And this year there were no students who were graduating who had been in chorus for four years. Exactly zero. Other places I’ve been that has not been the case. It’s just that there are so many more demands here on the kids and they have so many interests. That’s kind of what makes it interesting working here because the kids have so much going on and it adds a lot of dimension to the life here. It’s tough keeping the program having that continuity that will maintain excellence. It’s always a challenge to whip them into shape, or whatever you’d like to call it. And as you know, not every student is here for the same reason. Some of them are here to fulfill a requirement, but sometimes they end up loving it and contributing a lot. MM: You said you’ve been in music for twenty-five years which seems like an awfully long time to us, but what got you started in music? JL: My cousin had a ukulele! No, well that’s the first instrument I had. We went camping and she brought it along and I thought it was cool to be able to make music. I started playing by ear when I was about nine or ten and started playing in garage bands I was about thirteen. When I went to college, I was in a pre-law program. I was going to be an attorney, or so I thought. After about a year and a half, I came up for air and took stock of what I was doing and I was spending all my time practicing piano. So, I switched majors. And after I graduated, I always thought I was going to be a teacher at some point. I started a performing career which lasted for about ten years. Before I started teaching. You know, went back and got advanced degrees. In a lot of ways, I think here and in that border town have been the two favorite places I’ve taught. I mentioned the students and the parents and my colleagues. I continually surprised by their accomplishments in their fields and how bright they are. It just always amazes me. MM: What exactly drives you to teach every day? What do you feel that would never let you stop? JL: More than anything else, if even one kid has a transformative moment—I know that sounds sort of lofty—just that they experience what it’s like to feel what it’s really like to have the music inside of them and it becomes something much more than performing. It becomes here. If a student can even feel that once, it satisfies me immensely because I have such a passion for music and I like to think I experience it on that level a lot. MM: What will you miss most about the students? JL: That’s tough, that really is. Because there’s so many things I like about you guys. You’re smart, multiple interest—almost all of you are involved in different things. It’s tough here. What I’ve found that’s taken some adjustment here…it relates to the fact they can’t stay in the program for several years. I’ve found it more difficult to develop relationships with the students. Because in some ways music fosters that, that you’re experiencing something at the same time, but working against that, it’s forty-five people. It’s not like a twelve student seminar. It’s a whole bunch a people you have to make connections with and it’s harder. Other places I’ve been, where students have had the opportunity to stay in the program, I’ve been able to make more personal relationships. I had a student contact me about three weeks ago, said he was going to be in town. I hadn’t heard from him since 1991. And he just wanted to get together and he shared with me that some of the things I had taught him are still with him. He’s in the music field now; he’s a choir director himself. MM: So do you think chorus and music can foster other skills in students? JL: Well, there are things you hope that they understand are part of this that are also part of other things. Teamwork, responsibility to others and to yourself. That’s something also harder when students are coming and going. In a lot of ways, this has been the most challenging place to work even though if you average it up, on average are these the brightest kids I’ve taught? Yeah. No doubt, but because music has communication and emotion as a necessary component, that aspect of it has been more difficult when I don’t see them every day for three or four years. Who comes in here next year, I hope they have a way to address that. MM: So Wednesday was your last concert at Latin. How did that feel? JL: It was certainly different. I was really glad my family was there, because this particular type of thing might not happen again. So yeah, there was a sense of poignancy about it. I was pleased that the concert went really well. I was thrilled about that. But there’s things I will miss a lot. The joy of sharing my passion with others. I mean, I’ll still be doing that, just in a different way. When you teach private lessons and perform with other musicians, it’s not the same. It’s not the same as making that connection with a student and giving them the opportunity to experience—here’s a college word—something that’s ineffable, that you just can’t describe what the feeling is when everything’s going right and the music is good. MM: Do you think when the day comes you’ll be ready to say goodbye? JL: It’s going to be tough with a few individuals, you know, some people I’ve really grown to care about, both adults and kids. And that days right around the corner. Graduation…that’ll be it. *** During our penultimate song – “Africa” – I finally felt a bit of relief. As we drove into the final chorus of the song, Mr. Lunsford began to mouth the impromptu line ‘I bless the rains’ as sung in Toto’s original studio version. Normally, he mouthed the words along with us. It gave me a sense of trust. He trusted us. The concert didn’t feel like an end, as I thought it would. Rather, it was the beginning of a very nice and well-deserved goodbye.]]>