On Tuesday, Feb. 11, students in the East Grand Rapids Orchestra arrived at class expecting an ordinary day. Instead, students learned the news of the upcoming retirement of their director, Mrs. Mary Hillyard, after 40 years of teaching orchestra, 37 of which were at East.
“There have been so many special moments,” Mrs. Hillyard said.“From the joys of 6th graders being so excited about ‘getting something’ for the first time as they are learning a new concept on their instruments to the seniors sharing their ‘senior moments’ about what their orchestra family has meant to them for the past seven years is truly what makes teaching music so rewarding and so memorable.”
The announcement surprised students.
“Mrs. Hillyard has done everything to help me grow as a musician,” Dan Delano ‘20 said. “She’s not only taught me the hard technique of where to put my fingers and when, but she’s also helped me to actually feel the music, and engage in it as a work of art, as opposed to simply classwork.”
Hillyard is known for supporting her students in all areas of their growth and education as young musicians.
“The most important lesson I have learned,” Hillyard said, “Is the same lesson I want all of my students to know: each and every one of my students is valued and valuable. You serve a purpose. Our music is the tool that we use to reach both ourselves and those around us.”
Her students are reminded of what they mean to her without her needing to tell them. “Over the past seven years, she’s made me laugh, she’s made me cry (happy tears), but most importantly she’s provided a sense of consistency over the ever-changing years.” Delano joked. “I’ve always been able to count on an hour a day of Mrs. Hillyard and music. An hour a day to pick up my instrument and play, forgetting about the rest of the obligations I have. And that’s been incredibly valuable. More valuable than she’ll know,”
Overall, students and staff at East Grand Rapids love Mrs. Hillyard and will miss her very much as they send her off to the very best retirement.
“The idea that future classes of students won’t get to experience the special brand of joy that she brings to a classroom is not an idea that I like. . .” Delano said, “She gets to spend time with her friends and family and relax [now]. And she deserves that.”