Back then, when Lewis Allen Phelps was hired to teach choral music at Point Loma High, the young, recent college graduate would create a magical aura that has formed a lifetime bond with his students that lives on a half-century later.
So strong was the bond between Phelps and his singers that the Madrigals reunite every two or three years and rehearse for a “Madri-gala” concert to honor (now Dr.) Phelps, who attends from his home in Bountiful, Utah.
In June, the Madrigals were invited to attend and perform with the current Pointer orchestra in the annual Rhapsody on the Point event at the Humphreys concert venue at Shelter Island. And Phelps was there to share the moment.
Each cited ways music changed their lives. For Mark Niederman (1967), it was “my first big responsibility.” For Anne Colt (1967), it was “thinking on my feet and making changes when things don’t go quite right.” Kathy Lazzaro (1966) cited “a way of expressing myself, relieving stress, letting the whole world and its troubles go away for a while.”
The trio said it laments there has been no vital, formal vocal music program at PLHS for some time, and these former Madrigals are passionate about the need to hear beautiful harmonies like they created return to the halls of their alma mater.
Noting PLHS now features a strong, growing, award-winning band and orchestra program, Niederman refers to vocal music as “the missing one-third.”
He noted the comparatively simple needs of adding a vocal music component.
“Everyone has an instrument called ‘the throat,’” he said. “It is very easy for students to get involved. They don’t have to ask their parents to buy an expensive instrument.”
Colt, now an organizational trainer, said, “Kids involved in music tend to stay in school, do better in school and go on to higher education. By not having a choral program, we’re leaving out those potential benefits to a large group of kids.”
Retired kindergarten teacher Lazzaro said many current Pointer students may love music but have a diminished ability to obtain an instrument.
“Many students come from far away to attend Point Loma today,” she said, and they may not be in a family situation where it works for them to buy an instrument. Or getting the instrument back and forth on the bus doesn’t work very well. But they may also be children who have a musical gift or a need to get out their thoughts and feelings through music, and I think we owe that to them. We’re not providing for them.”
What might a new Pointer vocal music program look like?
Colt foresees a program serving a large number of students, involving entry-level singers in small groups progressing to a vocal ensemble or show choir. She said some Madrigal music was written for either a small number of voices or performed a cappella.
An advanced group like the former Madrigals, focused on performing a mixture of older and newer music in concert settings, is Niederman’s vision.
The program should, in Lazzaro’s view, provide an awareness of culture, an opportunity for kids to be exposed to many genres of music they don’t regularly hear in today’s world. She gave examples of music from past centuries, other cultures, Broadway tunes, sacred and holiday music as well as the beautiful pop music written by current artists.
“There is more than rap music out there,” she laughed.
The trio agreed a new program may have to start as an after-school program or under the guidance of volunteers or a student-teacher.
They all agreed, however, there is one major ingredient that must eventually be present: an inspiring, motivating, passionate teacher.
Someone like Lewis Allen Phelps.