Memorable role models who've made some great memories

COLUMBIA, 5/1/13 (Op Ed) -- Music budgets were dramatically cut when I was in school, and a once common site -- the student violin in a hard plastic case -- disappeared.

But in Columbia's public schools, music is a priority. This fond farewell to one of my daughter's first -- and most precious music mentors -- says it all in a single sentence.

"Melissa Guillotte’s devotion to music was evident in the way she inspired others."

Mrs. Guillotte taught violin, piano, voice -- and poise at Grant Elementary. And indeed she inspired: My daughter's first "big hit" on stage, singing about how to make lemonade from lemons behind a kid-sized sunny yellow lemonade stand. Convincing children to overcome stage fright and stand proud in front of friends, parents, teachers, little brothers and big sisters was a Guillotte gift.

Carli Bates -- another young, dynamic Grant teacher -- taught my daughter to appreciate strings. She fell in love with the cello under Carli's 3rd through 5th grade tutelage, and has stayed with the instrument ever since. After Carli left CPS, we continued private lessons with her. She was a classy lady with the same gentle muse that guided Mrs. Guillotte.

Music becomes more demanding the longer a student stays with it, and to my daughter's education, longtime CPS music teacher Ed Hanson added a bit of Stephen Kingsfield -- the perfectionist Harvard Law professor from The Paper Chase.

As the music director at our church, Mr. Hanson led his young charges to sing the praises of the Lord with nary a missed note. He was gentle but firm, modeling the demands of the stage with three ideals: Be on time, be ready to perform, be prepared.

Of the many people CPS thanks for bringing blues artist TJ Wheeler in the schools every year, Pam Sisson stands out. Her effervescent energy imparts the power of music as a universal language, a theme that runs through Wheeler's annual week-long workshops. Music appeals across race, class, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, Sisson and Wheeler teach.

Vocal arts educator Matt Felts -- who, like Hanson before he retired, divides teaching and conducting between CPS and church -- performed a March celebration of "Music in Our Schools Month." Four singing groups -- the Men's Chorus, Bel Canto, Concert Choir, and A Cappella Singers -- performed hymns and other works beautiful to hear as an audience member, and eclectic enough for college preparation.

The night's performance included Kaval Sviri, a Bulgarian folk song the Yale Women's Slavic Chorus sings in this video; Vechnaya Pamiat, or "Eternal Memory," a solemn, stirring Russian hymn; Renaissance composer William Byrd's Vigilate; the traditional "Negro Spiritual," My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord, arranged by Moses Hogan; and Agnus Dei: Phoenix, by the contemporary Norwegian composer Oja Gjeilo.

Melissa Guillotte (right) passed away at age 25, three years after a brain tumor made itself known by muddling her most important instruments: her fingers and her voice.
Six years later, those young adults singing hymns with such poise are still unwrapping the gift she and others gave them, note by inspirational note.

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat

[Ed. Note: My children have had other CPS music teachers, but the people mentioned here are those I have known personally.]

Matt Felts' selections for "Music in Our Schools"