The Dance Teacher–A Tribute to Mr. Stutzman

Mr. Lyle Stutzman is finishing up his last year teaching music at our high school and grade school and we will all miss him like the idiot misses the point. So, Nate wrote a stellar tribute to Mr. Stutzman, and I thought it summed up my thoughts and feelings pretty well, so I asked him if I could post it here. So here it is, a tribute to one of the best, most humble teachers I know.

The Dance Teacher—A Tribute to Mr. Stutzman

When a child is learning to walk, his steps are slow and awkward, and he often falls. As he grows older, however he develops the ability to hop, jump, and skip—to dance. Acquiring the ability to dance cannot be developed overnight; it takes patience and the instruction of an experienced teacher.

I’ve heard it said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Everyone has something to which this statement applies. We all have or have had things that we have taken for granted, whether it’s a family member, a friend, health, or one of many other things. In my case, it was a teacher. A teacher who taught me to dance.

In 2007, a young musician began teaching music at Pilgrim Schools—Choir and Music I and II at High School, and Music for the uppergraders at Grade School. As if preparing the music and students for spring programs wasn’t enough. As if teaching several High School classes every week wasn’t enough. No, that wasn’t enough. Not for him. His love for people and good music drove him to also accept the job of teaching music to us rowdy little gradeschoolers. Us gradeschoolers who thought it was cool to pretend to hate music. Us gradeschoolers who seemed to think it was our job to be as distracting as possible during class. Yes, us gradeschoolers. Although he probably didn’t know all he was getting himself into at the time, he still took a leap of faith in accepting this job. And, gradually, a change began to occur. Slowly, we students began to learn to be more respectful, to sing better, and to appreciate good music. We were becoming more like our teacher—learning to dance.

By the time I reached high school, the instructor had been teaching for several years. He was still teaching Choir and Music I and II at high school, and the uppergraders at grade school. Not only did he teach music, but he set a great example for all his students. He spoke at high school several times, in segregated chapel and at our guys’ campout, and made it obvious that if someone needed to talk, he was available. As if teaching us from his vast knowledge of music wasn’t enough. As if the many hours outside of school helping us Music II students finish our songs wasn’t enough. No, that wasn’t enough. Not for him. He went out of his way to make sure all the guys at high school had someone to talk to, someone to listen. Yet, I, as well as other students, didn’t think it unusual. This was just the way it was, and he would always be there for us, right?

Last night was the high school’s last program under his direction. After 6 years of pouring his all into our school’s music program and the students’ lives, it all came down to one final performance. One last dance. With emotions running high, he delivered his last “pregame speech.” He acknowledged that the evening was special. Yet, he reminded us, the true purpose of the program was not to impress the crowd. It was not to make him proud. No, our true purpose was to sing to the Audience of One. As we marched up the stairs and out into the anteroom, we could feel the excitement and anticipation of the crowd. This feeling, this moment, could not be captured by any camera or microphone. It could be captured and preserved only in our memories.

Throughout the evening, it was like a scene from a movie playing in slow motion. The conductor’s face beamed with joy as he guided the choir with ease. He mouthed the title of each song before starting it, here and there adding a joke to make us smile and keep us at ease. He savored every minute of the program, at times resting his hands at his side and simply listening. We students also relished every moment. After all, it was his last program. His last dance.

As I think of his departure, my emotions are mixed. Although it makes me sad to think of our school without him, it also makes me glad. Glad for this opportunity for him to share his knowledge of music, his teaching ability, his joy with others. Glad for the years he shared with Pilgrim Schools, with the students, with me. One thing is certain: he will continue to bless others wherever he goes. And, who knows? Maybe someday he will make a triumphant return to Kansas. Until then, his memory will remain. Every time I hear “Hava Nagila,” I will think of his dancing antics in choir practice and the funny way he always said “Have a Nagila.” When we sing “The Church’s One Foundation,” I will think of the effort he poured into teaching 7th and 8th graders to sing beautifully. Every time I come across a song we sang in choir, I will think of the man behind my experience with it. His delightful laugh, his jovial smile—his joy. And I will always be proud to call that man my teacher and my friend—the one who taught me to dance.