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Anne Talcott sings the praises of music

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Anne Talcott sings the praises of music

Anne Talcott playing the piano at a recent choir concert.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED December 6, 2012 1:03 a.m.

Anne Talcott sees life through music.

After all, until last spring – when Talcott retired after 35 years of teaching band, choir and music for Manteca Unified – it had ostensibly been her life’s work.

Thousands of students passed through the doors into her classrooms and her rehearsal spaces and crowded around the piano that she learned to play when she was 7 years old. Some went on to make music professionally – either packing it all up for the glitz-and-glamour of Hollywood or heading to The Big Apple to try and break in on Broadway.

And while she’s enjoying her retirement – and babysitting her 9-month-old grandson during the day – she still misses the students that for more than three decades were a major part of her life.

But even without a classroom at her disposal Talcott is still finding a way to bring music to the masses.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, the Manteca Community Choir – under Talcott’s direction – will be performing a Christmas cantata entitled “Hope of the Broken World” at Valley Community Presbyterian Church at North and Main streets. The show, which is expected to run for an hour, begins at 7 p.m. It is free to the public.

The Bulletin sat down with Talcott to find out how music became such an integral part of her life, what her plans are now that she’s retired and what her hopes are for the arts in Manteca’s public schools:

What gave you your start in music?

“I’ve always liked it. My parents bought me an organ to learn on when I was 7, and I’ve always loved playing it and singing. I was a music education major at the University of the Pacific with a concentration in choir and organ, but I’ve been around church music for 45 years now. I love worship and I love music and for me the two combined bring out the emotional side of church. Some parts are more intellectual – the sermons and the scripture can be – but music takes all of those words and puts them into a medium that speaks to me.”

You were a music educator for 35 years. Do you miss being in the classroom?

“I don’t miss the job but I do miss the students. I gave the job my everything until the very last day – I don’t say that I taught students music but I taught students through music. I enjoy sleep now and a slightly less stressful lifestyle, and I love babysitting my 9-month-old grandson. It’s perfect.”

Some of your students have gone on to pursue music professionally. Is there a sense of pride that comes with that?

“I’m always excited when students pursue music because it’s such a difficult business to get into. But in the cases of a lot of those students they all had such an incredible amount of talent to begin with. I might have helped introduce them to more styles or techniques – showing them how to save their voice down the road – but they had the tools. I can’t say that I was really the one that helped facilitate that decision in their life.”

How important do you feel the arts are in public education today?

“I believe that they’re really important. Our district was very lucky – they had to make some difficult decisions, and while it was close, Superintendent Jason Messer came out and said that they weren’t going to cut the arts programs. I believe that music and the arts reach a part of the brain, the creative and emotional side, and that is such a good outlet for students. It helps them learn to work together, and in some cases that gets them to school every day. Art for art’s sake is important, and we need to keep it available for all of our students.”

If you take a trip anywhere in the world tomorrow to see any performance in the world, where would you go and who would you see?

“I’d love to go see The Harlem Boys Choir or the Vienna Boys Choir. That’s a tough question because there is so much good music throughout the world. I had to chance to take students back to New York to see Les Miserables, and once over to London. That trip overseas was probably the most exciting musical experience I’ve ever had. All of the students walked out with this look on their face. It was unbelievable.”

Any hobbies or things that you like to do to pass the time?

“I love to walk my dog – she’s a border collie. Most of the time she walks me. I like to do puzzles in Games Magazine, and help the ladies at church with whatever they might have going on at the moment.”

You were one of the judges towards the end of Manteca Idol’s run. What did you enjoy about that experience and what do you think the participants got out of it?

“One of the things that we wanted to do was to help them improve their presentation and their vocal skills, and towards the end we wanted to be able to offer constructive criticism and encouragement – things that they could work on to get better. A lot of times you have young singers that try to sing something the same way that they hear it on television, and it’s not good for their voice to belt something out like that. It was a chance to show them how to sing it in a healthier way.”

What is your take on the popular singing competition shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice”?

“I don’t watch very much of them. It’s hard for me to watch anything with music in it without critiquing it – it’s my nature – but I’m starting to get tired of them. They seemed to be a lot more exciting at first. One of the things that has bugged me about them is that really capable people that I know that have gone to audition couldn’t get past the first round because they have so many people they only get five seconds in front of a producer. I know several that should have been able to have made it through the first few rounds that weren’t even looked at. That’s why it’s so hard to break into that industry. It takes a lot of talent and it takes a lot of luck.”

Where would you like to see music education go in Manteca Unified in terms of direction?

“My dream would be to have them start music in kindergarten instead of fourth grade and offer a truly comprehensive program – choirs, bands and orchestras. Joseph Barron, the music teacher at Weston Ranch, offers orchestra on his time. And there was been talk of bringing a strings program in but it never materialized. I’d like to see the whole package offered.”

While budget cuts didn’t eliminate music and arts funding, was there anything that has dampened the enrollment or participation?

“I think that our scheduling right now is hurting a lot of the programs. One of the things that the district had to do was cut summer school and that was giving students the opportunity to take an elective class like choir. An after school PE class that also freed up time isn’t offered anymore because of funding. It’s disappointing now that they’re not able to have that flexibility.”

Do some students find music intimidating?

“A lot of times students will have been told by somebody in their life at some point that they can’t sing. They’ve been told that reading music is way too hard or that arts and music are for geeks. There are a lot of things to break through. But students learn that most of the time the notions that they had aren’t the case – they end up learning how to read note or play by ear and they end up bonding with what turns out to be a really neat group of students. It’s a great thing to be able to watch.”

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