McDonald builds successful program at GHS

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Tiger football team members aren't the only ones &#8220bringing it back” to Greenville

High School.

The students in &#8220Miss” Millie McDonald's music classes are also determined to usher in a new era of superior vocal and instrumental performances.

And they credit their seasoned instructor for much of their success.

Miss Millie's magic

&#8220Before Miss Millie, I couldn't sing above an ‘E,'” choral student Brittany Byrd admits.

Byrd, the Talent Award winner at this year's Butler County Junior Miss and recently the winning vocalist at the LBWCC Fine Arts Tournament, &#8220can now hit a high ‘C,'” McDonald says with pride.

Tyler Ray, who studies both piano and voice with McDonald, says, &#8220Before this year, I didn't know I could sing at all.”

Tyler is currently rehearsing the lead in the school musical - and yes, he is singing.  A trumpet player in the school band, he is also planning to major in music at Troy University.

&#8220Tyler has got what it takes to make a wonderful band director,” McDonald says with a smile.

Another choral student, Candice Thompson, rehearses a solo that would put some of the would-be American Idols in the shade.

These are just a few of McDonald's &#8220beautiful children,” and she obviously takes pride in all their artistic accomplishments.

Even when it's lunch time and the students should be out of the music room (and McDonald's lovely white hair), they return with their sack lunches, sitting Indian-style on the floor and suddenly breaking into harmony on the state song, &#8220Alabama.”

&#8220Sing it again, sing it again,” Thompson urges as she joins them in the music room.

McDonald smiles.

&#8220I can't get rid of them. I love it,” she says.

&#8220I don't want to crush those youthful spirits of theirs. As long as they come in and work for me – that is what is important.”

McDonald has a youthful spirit of her own. With four decades of experience as a music educator, she still eagerly spends each weekday morning with the students at GHS before grabbing a quick lunch and heading over to work with choral students at Fort

Dale Academy several days each week.

There are also private vocal and piano students.  Let's just say Millie McDonald is one busy lady.

When told she's considered the &#8220Energizer Bunny” of music in Butler County, McDonald laughs heartily.

&#8220Well, I don't know about that. But thank you, I like the sound of it,” she says with a smile.

Music for all

McDonald currently has a total of 33 choral students and 13 piano lab students at GHS. Almost anywhere she goes in the city, however, she is likely to run into one of her current or former &#8220kids.”

&#8220Music is such an important part of education. My dream is to see it in Butler County in every school, K-12. I want music for Georgiana, for McKenzie,” she says with a gleam in her blue eyes.

She is thrilled with GHS's new piano lab.

&#8220This has been a wonderful addition to the program. We have 13 keyboards right now and a waiting list of students wanting to take the course. (School superintendent) Mr. Looney has promised us two more keyboards for next year,” McDonald says.

Connor Murphy-White, who hadn't taken piano lessons since elementary school, says the piano lab is &#8220a great idea.”

&#8220I can finally sight read music. I give Miss Millie two thumbs up.”

Brittany Byrd points out another benefit of the lab.

&#8220It gives people a chance to take lessons who really can't afford to buy an instrument for band or a piano for home.”

The students say they have also noted an overall improvement in their grades, as they have seen how music often overlaps into other subject areas.

Math, foreign language, English - even physics - are all tied into music, McDonald says.

There are other benefits, according to Byrd.

&#8220This is my senior year and it's a really stressful time. To be able to come in here every day and let the music flow and go is so relaxing, and it's fun.”

Music theory isn't quite as much fun as the singing, but it is also part of McDonald's curriculum.

&#8220They have a series of workbooks. They take written tests, they take dictation. They are really learning music,” McDonald stresses.

Preparing for life

The instructor helps students prepare for all kinds of competitions, from choral contests and school talent shows to auditions for music scholarships and college choirs.

Win or lose, it's all an important life experience, McDonald says.

&#8220I had several who tried out for All-State. Even those who didn't make it learned a lot.”

 McDonald believes her students' musical growth will also pay off for the community.

&#8220My hope is these kids will become pianists for their churches and clubs. And of course, the choral students can go on to college choirs, church and community choirs,” the music instructor says.

&#8220Hey, you go to church and you sing and it sounds a lot better,” one student says with a wry grin.

It's all a matter of rounding those mouths and lifting that pitch - and being ready willing and able to work for Miss Millie.

&#8220Gather around me, you beautiful children,” McDonald says as she sits down at the piano to rehearse &#8220For the Beauty of the Earth.”

They've come a long way, baby.

&#8220Back in the 10th grade, I was about the only one good at sight reading. Now a lot of us are. Now we have altos and we have harmony!” Byrd says gleefully.

The GHS Music Department - &#8220bringing it back” for the arts.