To the Editors:
As The Wilton Bulletin reported, on April 5, a small group attended the Board of Education meeting to ask the members to consider naming the Wilton High School Little Theater in honor of John Rhodes, who is retiring after 50 years of teaching. For many of us students, and our supportive parents, the Little Theater was the heart of our musical education at Wilton High. A 2015 revision to the District Facilities Naming Policy “discourages the recognition of individuals or contributors through the naming of facilities or parts of facilities.” The meeting attendees were part of a much larger group of present and past students, parents, and educators who respectfully wish to make the case that, if there were ever an occasion make an exception, it is this one: we should honor the distinguished career of a man who has given so much to our community.
First and foremost, John Rhodes has been a teacher and mentor to his students. He pushed us to commit to the music, and to give our best, but he was inclusive in his approach and embraced all students. By setting up both a symphonic and a concert band, and a junior and senior jazz ensemble, he gave more opportunities to shine to more students. He organized other small ensemble groups — brass quintets, woodwind quintets, flute ensemble to name a few — for some of the more advanced players as well. There was even a Dixieland band that played for the Cannondale train station dedication.
Many more Wiltonians will have been exposed to his creative talents through the marching band. We are the famous “dancing band” — no matter how fierce the football rivalries may have been, we were adored by home and rival crowds alike for our halftime routines. Still other residents may have enjoyed the performances of the Fairfield County Summer Operetta Workshop. Co-founded with Phyllis Murray, long-time Wilton resident, arts patron, and voice teacher, for nearly 20 years the workshop offered high-quality performance opportunities to young people across Fairfield County, presented in the Little Theater. And the Jazz Symposium, begun 42 years ago and since replicated by three other Fairfield County high schools, provides a non-competitive forum for jazz students.
I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has said to me, “Wow, you did all that in high school?”, and yet I was but one of the fortunate many. Some of us have gone on to remarkable careers in music and theater as professional or semi-professional performers, some have chosen to teach in the field, some have continued to play and sing for our own enjoyment, and many may have never again picked up an instrument or sung after high school. But all of us have left WHS, and the programs set in motion by John Rhodes, enriched by our experiences and grateful for having been a part of this man’s amazing musical legacy.
Norwalk, April 10