(photo by Jill Bock, Staff)
NEW MADRID - When she reached for her ballot at the Missouri Music Educators Association meeting to vote for the "Outstanding District Choral Director," Judy Henry got a surprise. There on the list was her name.
Back at New Madrid County Central High School, she told her students about the surprise of the nomination. It was like "well duh." Henry recalled: "For them is was 'so, we already knew that.'"
While her students believed her to be outstanding, in July she will know her peers do too as she accepts the award during the Missouri Choral Directors Association's State Convention in Jefferson City.
And she takes pride in the company she is keeping. Among the other honorees are former Sikeston teacher, Willie Grega. "He gave me a lot of support when I first came here. I'm pleased to be sharing the roster with him."
Also on the list are eight other choral directors from across Missouri.
"I think at this stage in my career this really means a lot to me," Henry said about the honor. "They look at what you have done in the school-related choral experience. You only vote for people making an effort to move forward with their choral program in the schools."
And Henry likes to keep moving.
In her 12 years in the New Madrid County R-1 School District, she has taught choral music to junior high school and high school students. Last year she directed some 30 eighth graders in choral music and in the high school, the 45-member female chorus, the 25-member male chorus and the Singing Eagles, which is a select group of 50 young men and women.
Next year she will have her three high school choral groups, teach a music appreciation class where students can earn college credit and offer the school's first class in musical theater.
"I need a new challenge," she said with a smile about the new classes. Teaching choral music, she continued, gives her the best of both worlds.
"I have to constantly be teaching, working on the basics," she said. "But there is the creative aspect that is challenging. I have to make this new and fresh for myself, for the students and since we perform for the public, for the community too."
Next year's musical theater class perhaps will be the most creative challenge awaiting. She is spending her summer planning for the students, many of whom have already performed in two school musicals.
She plans to cover the background and history of musical theater and offer performing opportunities, such as a winter dinner theater, for these and her other students.
And as if her classes weren't enough, Henry will also serve next year as the all-state coordinator for the district overseeing the all-state auditions and selections.
Henry credits the support of the school administration with allowing her the opportunity to be active in her profession while introducing students to different musical experiences. These are experiences from which she hopes her students will learn more than just musical notes.
"I want them to go out of here as life-long learners. Have an experience which mean something to them all their lives," she said.
That is no problem said Jamie Russell, a member of Henry's choral groups, including Singing Eagles, and a 2002 NMCC grad. "She always keeps you on your toes - you are never not learning something in her classes. Yet, it is a lot of fun."
And she believes she gets something even more valuable from her students. "I really care about these kids. They are always there for me as I try to be for them. They feed me," she said adding a bit of explanation. "The present members of the Singing Eagles are so full of energy and creativity. When they are excited about performing, that is exciting for me."
She pointed out last year's Singing Eagles earned top ratings in competition. Next year's choir will have many returning performers.
"This has been a 12-year building process," she noted about the Singing Eagles and other choirs' successes. "The community has come to expect a high level of performance from us. Hopefully we can continue that.
"This will be the 13th year, hopefully that will be a lucky 13."