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There are moments in Keith Roden’s career that sound like movie plots.

Take, for instance, the concert choir group that received an invitation on Sept. 12, 2001, to sing in the Candlelight Processional at Disney World that December.

As the director of the Boiling Springs High School concert choir, Roden knew the terrorist attacks the day before would take the trip off the table.

“What do you do when you can’t even get on a bus to go to Carlisle?” he said.

At first, he told only the concert choir president and vice president about the invitation. The two later came to him to ask permission to talk to the district superintendent without him.

The students knew the district would say no to the trip, but they wanted to truthfully be able to say they had tried everything they could, Roden said.

“She could not say no to them. She would not say yes, but she was not going to be the one to say, ‘No, I’m sorry. You have to understand, you cannot go,’” Roden said.

The superintendent passed the request along to the education committee of the school board. They, too, couldn’t refuse the students, so the request went to the full school board.

That night, the students allowed Roden to accompany them to the meeting.

There, Roden said every one of the students’ parents put a note in front of the board president saying that they would chaperone their own child on the trip and absolved the school district of any responsibility should anything happen.

“You don’t draw up a movie script like that,” Roden said.

Roden will take memories like these with him when he retires as a music teacher and choir director in the South Middleton School District at the end of the school year.

Student-focused

When Roden thinks back over 30 years in education, he recalls momentous trips, student achievements and those moments when shy students finally take a leap of faith and become a different person.

“Those aren’t measurable, but they’re memorable,” he said.

Roden taught at nearly every grade level during his career. When he arrived, he taught grades 7-12. Then, he picked up sixth grade. When Rice Elementary was being renovated, he picked up kindergarten classes. He picked up first grade one year due to overpopulation at Rice, and followed them up to second grade the following year.

Knowing that most of his students won’t go into music professionally, Roden said music is part of a classical education. A balanced education gives students a sampling of a variety of disciplines as a way to gain an appreciation for those fields and to find out first-hand those things at which they excel, he said.

“I still adhere to that ideal because I walked away from that form of education feeling like I got a real quality education,” Roden said.

Roden applied the concept of broad sampling to his choir selections. While many school programs have almost abandoned sacred music due to community pressure, Roden has continued to balance both the sacred and the secular in the concert program.

“You have to understand that the choir itself came from the Renaissance period and it came out of the church,” he said.

To eliminate sacred music is to eliminate part of the curriculum, Roden said. Applying similar restrictions in art classes would mean eliminating the study of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in art class. The important part is to treat the music as literature or curriculum and not to preach from it.

Selections for the chorus not only span the sacred and secular, but also meet the abilities of students at different levels of musical development. The concerts, then, are a mix of pieces to make freshmen comfortable and challenge seniors.

“In the end, it was those pieces that meant the most to them. They were challenged, and when they found success and they met the challenge, it was the most gratifying,” Roden said.

But, there are those students who did take music beyond the walls of the high school chorus room.

What Matthew Robinson learned from Roden formed a foundation that carried him to Messiah College and to further study in music that resulted in a career as a professional opera and concert singer.

“Everything I remember about high school all revolves around chorus and concert choir and everything we were doing there,” Robinson said.

Students never expect a teacher to have an impact on them from the time they are “little sixth-graders singing boy soprano stuff through an adult of almost 30 years old,” Robinson said.

But, that’s where Robinson and Roden are, and Robinson still carries with him the greatest lesson Roden ever taught him — to not give up when things aren’t easy.

“I’ve had that a lot. I had that in high school, academically and musically. And, I’ve had that in my own personal life past then,” he said.

Traveling singers

The search for a challenge prompted students early in Roden’s career to ask for more opportunities since the full chorus worked all year for only winter and spring concerts and a performance at baccalaureate.

These students wanted to sing more advanced pieces and they wanted to sing them more often.

The concert choir grew out of that request, and has taken students to a variety of venues from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Disney World to sporting events at Penn State, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and both the old and new ballparks in Philadelphia.

Some of that travel can be attributed to Roden’s skill as a musician and the arrangement of the National Anthem that he created for the chorus to perform at an April 1991 rally to welcome home local members of the military who served in Desert Storm.

It’s one song that has taken the concert choir to so many places, but in this, too, Roden sees the educational benefit as the students learn to cope with performance anxiety, maintain composure and develop inner confidence with 25,000 people or more watching them sing.

“You find a different level of yourself when you’re in the fishbowl with a spotlight on you like that. Besides the opportunity, it has been great developmentally for the students,” Roden said.

For all their travels, the choir never made it to Yankee Stadium, though their application made it pretty far up the chain before it was turned down because the choir wasn’t from New York.

“We got up to the name Steinbrenner before we got turned down,” Roden said. “I wasn’t a Yankee fan to start with, and that didn’t make me one either.”

For the record, Roden is an Orioles fan.

Into retirement

The grand finale to Roden’s three-decade career in Boiling Springs came May 16 when he directed the middle school chorus, high school chorus, high school concert choir and an alumni choir in his last concert at the school.

That chorus concert was evidence of the strong connection Roden had with his students, said band director David Yinger, who worked closely with Roden over the years.

“You can tell what kind of effect he had as a teacher that he had these students who wanted to come back,” Yinger said.

As a colleague, Yinger could tell how “genuinely appreciative” Roden was, not only at the number of students who turned out to honor him but also at the memories they brought back as they performed.

“He seemed very honored, humbled and pleased,” he said.

Roden said he apologized to the seniors at one point because the spring concert is typically their night to shine, but his impending retirement would take some of the spotlight. The students understood and wanted to be part of it, and they wanted to be part of making it special.

“It really was a magical night. It’s something that I will never forget, and certainly far more than I deserved,” Roden said.

That his students would come back after all those years to be part of his final concert shows that the lessons Roden taught stuck with the students and the music continues to impact them.

“I hope administrators one day understand at their 10 or 15 year reunion these students are going to be talking about memories like this. They’re not going to be talking about how well they did on the Keystone Exam,” Roden said.

So, what’s next for Roden?

His retirement isn’t a total withdrawal from music. He will continue to serve as the director of sanctuary music at Camp Hill United Methodist Church, where he has a 50-voice choir, two handbell choirs, a brass choir and an orchestra.

“It by itself is probably a full-time job, but it’s been a part-time job,” he said.

He’ll also find time to relax, work on musical arrangements and find his hobbies again.

“Eventually, I want to see as much of this country through the windshield of my RV as possible, and catch as many bass on the Susquehanna River and lower my golf handicap. That’s all on the list,” he said.

Email Tammie at tgitt@cumberlink.com. Follow her on Twitter @TammieGitt.

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