New Generation of Music Teachers Further the Program

When Dr. James Borst announced his retirement, he left students in tears, choir student Ryann Mehney ‘22 said. 

The school loses beloved teachers every year. But in their place, fresh faces emerge and join the faculty. 

The music department, in particular, has experienced the most change in staffing over the past few years. While new teachers cultivate fresh perspectives, knowledge, and skill, losing the teachers who built the music program caused a range of emotions for students. 

At the beginning of the year, Emily Verdonk filled Borst’s position as the choir teacher for Bellavoce, Madrigals, Women’s and Men’s choir as well as Varsity Voices. Verdonk had the difficult task of teaching a new group of students while upholding Borst’s legacy in the choir program.  

“Dr. Borst brought so much to the choir program, and he truly believed in all of his students,” Mehney said.

Last year, Bree Mitchell took Mary Hillyard’s position as an orchestra teacher. Hillyard had been with some students since they started playing in middle school, and many students had never been taught by anyone else. 

“It was really sad with her leaving since we’ve all had her since 6th grade,” Kelly Couvreur ‘22 said. “She was more than a teacher to us and was more like a mother to all of us.”

After playing under Hillyard’s direction throughout middle and high school, many students felt the weight of her leaving. 

The band is now taught by Jake Castillo and Kim Owens since Mark Wells primarily teaches IB music now and Bill Bier left a few years ago. 

“It was a little tough at first to be able to get to know Mr. Castillo as well as I had known Mr. Bier, but now we have that feeling of understanding because we know him,” Rotem Andegeko ‘22 said. 

As new teachers come, some traditions of past teachers have been forgotten. But Verdonk ensured the Madrigals were able to perform their annual 12 days of Christmas performance at the holiday concert, a festivity that many students are passionate about. 

“We performed all of our carols at probably over 10 gigs between December 2nd and December 17th, just as we would with Dr. Borst here,” Mehney said.

Although some traditions might change, new faculty allows for new ones to be created 

“I think one of the upsides is that with old traditions lost, new traditions are started,” Couvreur said. “I’m sad that some traditions have been lost since I remember them from freshman and sophomore year, but it’s exciting to see all the underclassmen getting to create new ones.”

“Traditions have mostly stayed the same with the exception of having band camp at GVSU, however, this was changed before the new staff came,” Andegko said “This used to affect the band much more, but lately we have been able to work past it.”

The addition of new teachers has greatly impacted students because the ways and material they are being taught have altered. 

“Having Mrs. Verdonk as our teacher has been amazing,” Mehney said. “She is a very talented woman who shares the same love for music as her students. She knows how to challenge her students to do better than they thought they could.”

As nerve-racking it was losing great teachers the past few years, the legacy of the music department is being upheld and built upon by the new ones. 

“I think the Orchestra department has definitely improved since Mrs. Mitchell has been teaching. Not that it was bad beforehand, but she brought a lot of new ideas in which it was fun to have some change” Couvreur said.