Familiar refrain

As retired educators, area couple still in tune with lifelong passion

“Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.”

That is what Edward Bulwer-Lytton said and long-time music educators Nancy and John Krestic of Silver Creek would agree. In their classrooms and in their lives, they have experienced the joy and the power of music from an early age.

As a child, John recalls marching in parades for the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas, for which his dad, also John Krestic, was the conductor for many years. At age 5, the parade over a bridge with a steel grid walkway was a fearsome experience, sometimes drowning out the music’s power, but fear of “open” bridges was soon replaced by love of playing the trumpet and then the French horn, and now the tuba. Learning never ends for a true musician!

Nancy has many early music memories, including one when she was only 5 years old.

“My dad was a member of the Moose Club that always had a children’s Christmas party. Somehow, I was asked to sing ‘Up on the Roof Top’, and I have been singing in public and in private ever since. My aunt encouraged me with the use of her ‘recording machine,’ an early make-your-own record machine.”

What child wouldn’t love to do that?

From singing, Nancy soon moved to playing the piano, which she learned quickly. Soon she began accompanying school groups and playing for assemblies. Her performance career included playing and singing for shows, for which she could “dress up.”

“I had such terrible stage fright even though I loved to sing and perform. I wrote down the words to songs in a little book that I held in my hand on stage just in case I forgot the words. I never had to use that book, but it gave me the confidence I needed to go on with the show.”

John started taking trumpet lessons in fifth grade, and even added piano lessons for a short time, but hated practicing both.

“I gave up the piano but not the trumpet because I did well with it even without much work. As a lesson to me, my band director threw me out of band for not practicing in sixth grade. Thankfully, I had a different director in seventh grade who suggested that I might like playing the French horn, and he re-instated me to band. It really worked! I have been playing French horn ever since.”

As a high school student, Nancy knew that she wanted to become a teacher, but was torn between teaching art, English, or music. While in school, she had voice and piano students, so she knew the joys of teaching. In her senior year, she decided on music, and the rest is history.

“I had a high school principal who worked hard to make kids’ dreams happen, so he cut through barriers to create for me a three-course program in music theory that I completed in one semester so that I could apply to college for music education.”

So many students of hers can be thankful for that principal’s accommodations for her.

Growing up as the son of a high school music teacher helped make the career decision a bit easier for John.

“I always knew that I would become a music teacher, so I went to Fredonia State College (now SUNY Fredonia), which had a great music department, where I was one of the few music education students who knew from the beginning that my future would be as a teacher. This gave me a different perspective on which classes to take and what I wanted to gain from taking them. Mine was a much smoother sail, as I always wanted to teach.”

Nancy’s entire public school teaching career was in Silver Creek, but she was never successful in limiting herself to “just teaching at school.” While married to her first husband, Karl Hawes, who also taught at Silver Creek and who died in 1992, Nancy worked to receive her master’s degree, raised two children, Stephen and Susan, taught hundreds and hundreds of private piano and voice students, and was continuously called upon to be the choral conductor for many groups.

John’s life as a music educator began in Springville in 1968. The next year he came to Silver Creek and in 1975 he accepted the high school band position at Cheektowaga Central where he retired in 2000 as the Music Department Coordinator.  John became a single parent of a son, John and daughter Kihm in 1978. Nancy and John married and merged their two families in 1980.

When asked if anyone can make music, Nancy replied an enthusiastic, “Yes, so long as they work at it. When I attended the McPhail School of Music in Minneapolis, I was assigned to student teach at a school where they really didn’t know what to do with me, so I was assigned to work with young students who could not match pitch, an essential if you wish to sing. Every single child was successful after instruction. I proved to myself and others that making music is possible for everyone.”

John’s response to that question was slightly different.

“I used to believe that everyone could make music, but then I encountered the first of five AFS (American Field Service) exchange students came to live with us. He changed my mind,” John said with a generous laugh and warm memories of a terrific student who did not appear to be even slightly musical.

Over the years, the Krestics have had the great opportunity to see the results of their efforts as music teachers.

“You have really had an impact on my life,” is a frequent message sent via Facebook to the Krestics. Nancy admitted, “Comments like this don’t always come from those you expect to hear them from!”

One day while workmen were building onto the rear of their house, Nancy was standing at the kitchen window when one of the carpenters called in to her, “Do you remember the third verse of ‘Don Gato’ that you sang with us in school?” Added Nancy, “I guess everyone remembers something from my classes because we always sang, listened to music, and engaged in movement … something for everyone.”

“One of my student teachers from 28 years ago now directs six youth choirs at a huge church in Pasadena, California and stopped by to see us this fall. Another private piano student who paid for his lessons by doing yard work is now in charge of the music library at the New York City Public Library,” Nancy noted. “You just never know where your influence as a teacher starts or ends, but we know it’s there.”

Her daughter, Susan Schuman, is now an in-demand piano accompanist for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, and for many other groups. She is the church organist/choir director for Knox Presbyterian Church in Kenmore, and is on the staff at Buffalo State College. She is definitely her mother’s daughter.

John’s influence is also deep and wide. Several of his former French horn students are now playing professionally and a number of his students became music teachers. He sang in his church choir and, for years, conducted their hand bell choir.  Social media has allowed John to proudly follow the careers and growing families of many of his former students.

Since retirement, neither John nor Nancy have slowed down their efforts to spread the joy of music, although Nancy noted that arthritis is impairing her ability to play the piano, and a nasty cold last year has changed her voice. As I have noted in this space before, “Many retirees are so busy that they don’t know how they had time to work!”

Nancy and John are among those people.

Nancy was the Artistic/Founding Director of the Chautauqua Children’s Chorale for more than 20 years. She also was an adjunct faculty member of music faculty at SUNY Fredonia and at Jamestown Community College. For many years, she volunteered her time as Voice Coordinator for the NYS School Music Association, serving on its Manual Selection Committee and Sectional Festival Committee, where she also trained vocal adjudicators for the state.

Her awards for choral directing and distinguished service to music education are many, but one of her very favorite experiences as a choral director came from a serendipitous collaboration of choirs at one 4th of July concert at Chautauqua Institution. Nancy and John had invited and made arrangements for housing a chorus from Scotland to provide this concert.  Shortly before the 4th, John received a call from a music travel agency in New York City that said they needed housing and a concert venue for a traveling chorus from Taiwan.  John said, “We can’t do the housing, but we would love to have them join us for the concert that is planned.”

Soon after that, they heard from a young people’s choir from NYC that also sought a place with them. All groups arrived as expected, and after rehearsing for one-half day, the concert was held to a hugely welcoming crowd that loved and appreciated the music from a mini-United Nations. Amazing things can happen when there is an open door to making music.

John served as Assignor of Adjudicators for NYSSMA from 1990 until he was elected second vice president in 1987 and became president in 2002-2003. Soon thereafter he resumed duties as assignor, providing adjudicators for more than 120 music festivals across the state who annually evaluate more than 100,000 students. John also served as president of the New York State Council of Administrators of Music Education and currently serves as Parliamentarian for NYSSMA Executive Council. Several years ago, John decided to get back to playing the horn. He joined the New Horizons Band at SUNY Fredonia. After their only tuba player moved away, he decided to take up the tuba.  As one of several retired music teachers in the group, John periodically conducts the band. He also coaches, performs in, and arranges music for a brass group called Schleptet.

After all these years and all this music, there is still work to be done.  When asked what opportunities should be given to all students, both John and Nancy expressed an identical view.

“Travel, whether domestic or international, and experience in all the arts, are both essential.”

Nancy recounted a college excursion to New York City for one week that was provided to all students at Potsdam State College when she was a student there. “We spent a week in a city few of us had ever seen, going to plays, concerts, museums, and experiencing urban life. For most of us, this was an awakening, one that I wish every student could have at some point in their life as a student.”

John discussed a concert given in Des Moines, Iowa, where student musicians from all over the Western Hemisphere gathered to sing and play together. “The concert was the reason for gathering, but the learning extended far beyond the concert hall and had life-long impact on how young people view each other and the world.”

This experience demonstrated once again the powerful learning that must become a part of all students’ experience no matter  the individual’s chosen path.

After all these years of loving to teach, make and enjoy music, the Krestics are still extending their talents and seeking to infect new generations with their passion for music. I think they would agree with Dumbledore in J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “Ah, music,” he [Dumbledore] said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”   Let the music play, and let us make the music!