More than a few tears fell as longtime music teacher Mary Dann said farewell to her students at Chief Joseph Middle School.
There was crying when she announced her retirement and as students hugged her and said goodbye. Some Treble Choir singers couldn’t make it through an entire serenade to Dann without shedding a few more tears.
Dann is retiring after 35 years as a Richland music teacher to spend more time with her husband, retired Richland elementary school teacher and principal Paul Dann. The couple look forward to having time to visit family all over the country and in Western Europe.
Dann, 60, said she won’t miss hounding students for permission slips and how testing messed up school schedules. She will miss the culture of teaching music, hanging out with students and working with her colleagues.
“I feel like I am the luckiest person in the world when I get to make music with kids,” Dann said.
When Amy Barnett was in grade school couldn’t wait for music days with Dann. She and her classmates would look forward to their turn to play the xylophone or glockenspiel and the games Dann played with them.
“Obviously her impact on me was huge as I ended up being an elementary music teacher, just like she was for most of her teaching career,” said Barnett, who teachs music at William Wylie Elementary in West Richland. “I even had the honor of getting to student teach in her classroom. She was an excellent mentor and many of the things I use in my music classroom came from things she shared with me.”
Dann said she’s happy to reconnect with past students, whether they have continued in music or not. A cool thing about singing is that it’s something that can be picked up again.
“I want (my students) to know that they can be part of something bigger than themselves that is absolutely fabulous,” she said. “Singing in a choir, there is nothing like it. They can create something so beautiful and meaningful and personal with a whole bunch of other people. I want them to know that they are capable of great things, either as an individual or as part of a group when they sing.”
Dann has taught at seven of Richland’s schools, spending her last eight years at Chief Joseph.
She spent most of her time at elementary schools, teaching music, beginning band and beginning strings. She and her husband even taught together for a time at Sacajawea Elementary School.
Dann said she moved around to keep herself fresh and give students her best. She decided to switch to middle school so she could focus more on vocal music.
“They energize me a lot, and they keep me thinking and problem solving,” she said.
Dann originally planned to go into social work. But her mother, Philippa Roberts, encouraged her to think about music. She grew up singing and taking voice lessons.
She graduated from the University of Montana in Missoula and taught K-8 music in Shelby, Mont., for three years before moving to Richland. While teaching, she earned a master’s of music in education from the University of Oregon.
She’s a National Board Certified teacher, something Dann said forced her to look at herself critically and find ways to improve.
Chief Joseph Principal Jon Lobdell said she is one of the few teachers he would call distinguished based on new state evaluation standards and has shared her skills and techniques with her peers.
“Mary’s choirs regularly received superior ratings at festivals and it was always impressive to see her move a group of students from ‘singing a song’ together in sixth-grade to a choir of coordinated voices combining to sing all of their assigned parts as a ‘vocal performance’ by the time they get to eighth-grade,” said Lobdell.
“Mary is a lovely lady with a great heart for teaching and I am very fortunate to have had her as a member of my staff,” Lobdell said.
Dann may be saying goodbye to her career, but she’s not saying goodbye to music.
Dann also sings with Mid-Columbia Mastersingers and has acted as vocal director for a number of Tri-City area productions. That’s something she plans to continue.