View from Glen Hill: Meade has made a difference

The very impressive Wilton High School Pops Concert, held this past week in the absolutely packed Clune Center Auditorium, honored retiring educators Marty Meade and Betsey de Groff. They each received sustained standing ovations for their work. This column focuses on Marty Meade’s three-decade tenure here and his huge impact in building our schools’ orchestral program across multiple grade levels.

I can remember very well two decades ago seeing WHS senior Dan Kellogg conducting the school’s orchestra in one of his own compositions in a similar spring concert. Dan went on from WHS to an illustrious career as a nationally recognized composer and music professor, but his start was right here in Wilton under the magnificent guidance of Marty Meade.

Dan is but one example of those whom Marty has influenced by his work. Every orchestra student from Middlebrook onward has been the beneficiary of his caring leadership and consummate professionalism. His goal has not been to nurture virtuosos, however, so much as to offer every student the opportunity for an extraordinary musical experience. It is an experience designed to build over time and through grade levels in a program that he, along with Instructional Leaders Chip Gawle, Janet Nobles, John Rhodes, and Chip Zellner as well as string teachers Al Anderson and Mark Ribbens and very supportive administrators, envisioned expanding year by year. Their objective was eventually to reach to the lowest grades and enable students to progress each year into increasingly more sophisticated work. In fact, their program has done exactly that.

In later years, they were joined on the orchestral side by Dr. Darilyn Manring at Middlebrook and WHS as well as by Emily Franz and Ken Hayashi at Cider Mill to grow the program with the same high degree of professionalism and commitment that the founding educators brought to this work. You can see the fruits of their visionary work on display in multiple concerts from Cider Mill forward and the growing accomplishment of their students year-by-year. Most will not go on to be professional musicians or even music majors, but their experiences in the Wilton schools’ music program, both instrumental and vocal, will have taught them volumes about professionalism, teamwork, and the pure enjoyment of musical accomplishment.

Marty’s teaching career here began 29 years ago when he was hired to be WHS’ orchestra director. Back then, there were 10 students in the WHS orchestra at any given time; since then, the annual number in the orchestra has grown nine-to-10 fold. The orchestra has also provided the student core of Wilton’s outstanding musicals performed every year in the Clune Center Auditorium to rave reviews of both actors and musicians.

For the “rank-and-file” student performing in such rarified surroundings, it means that a lot is riding on your performing your best, supporting others, and caring about the quality of the result. And that offers an extraordinary experience in teamwork even as one strives to perform at his or her individual best. Inspired and inspiring leadership makes students want to do that, and Marty and his colleagues have provided that fully and consistently through their years of devoted service.

In fact, Marty provided one particularly compelling example of personal struggle to recover his best when a major skiing accident left him very seriously injured and having to fight hard to return to his outstanding performance levels both instrumentally and as a conductor. Just lifting his arms to conduct was a challenge, let alone playing the stringed instruments that are his métier to the high quality of his personal performance standards. But he fought through the pain with persistent strenuous effort to make a full comeback. That courageous and determined accomplishment was not lost on his students who saw in it yet another instance of his leadership by example.

Marty’s retirement will leave a huge hole, as did Chip Gawle’s retirement last year. But as Wilton schools’ veteran John Rhodes stood beside new band director Nick Loafman in this, his excellent starting year, Dr. Manring will work side-by-side with Marty’s soon-to-be-announced successor — a reflection of the fact that good leaders always plan well for their succession.

So we wish Marty Meade all of the joy he richly deserves in his new life in New Hampshire. His plans are reported to include musical performance, skiing (for which he hasn’t lost his love), sailing, and some recreational barbering thrown in on the side — all making for experiences, knowing Marty, that will be far too full to fairly bear the name “retirement!”