22 Years of Choir Alumni for Reunite for Concert
April 25, 2017
“I’m not retiring,” Nate Degner exclaimed as he walked on stage, “it’s just a concert.” But this wasn’t just any concert. The Flushing High School Choir director had been planning the A Cappella Reunion Concert for nearly a year and it showcased 166 singers, 106 of whom were Flushing A Cappella Alumni.
Degner says he had three goals for the April 23rd concert. First, he wanted to put on a quality show, one with “Real music, not fluff.” Second, he wanted to prove to his current students that singing is a lifelong activity. Third, he hoped to reconnect with former students. Degner says he accomplished all three goals, thanks in part to his committee of alumni.
1998 graduate Hannah Machado, née Bira, was a member of the committee and encouraged Degner to put on the show when he first had the idea. She says Degner was worried no one would show up and sing, but told him “People will show up for you.” Since then, the dance teacher and stay-at-home mother has helped coordinate the returning alumni. That’s no small feat considering Degner has been teaching since 1994 and his former students, some of whom are professional musicians, came from as far away as New York, Boston, Austin, and even Germany.
Macado and fellow Alumni Committee members spread the word via Facebook, which is how Beth Fisher found out about it. Though Fischer hasn’t sung in a group since her graduation in 2012, she says “I could not pass up on this event,” and made time to start singing again -sheet music was emailed to the alumni a month before the concert. Choir and Degner have a special place in Fischer’s heart, she explained; she came to Flushing Community Schools as a ninth grader, knowing no one, but joined choir where “Degner brought out a voice I never knew I had. He encouraged us all to sing and find our own voices and our own way.” And though her “own way” has led her to pursue a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, Fischer says Degner has stayed in touch with her because “He is a fantastic human being. He is not only a great teacher… but also cares about each and everyone of us, even after we’ve graduated.”
Though the show, rehearsal the day before, and individual practice has left Fischer “extremely hoarse,” she says her sore throat is worth it. “It’s amazing to produce something like that and make such a powerful sound. That feeling is once in a lifetime. I am so honored to be here.” Current FHS Senior Michael Hayek agrees. He says it was “Kinda scary to sing with all the people I don’t know, but it’s kinda cool too.” Hayek, who sang a solo in the concert, was particularly interested to meet the alumni he knew only from Degner’s stories and as names written in the sheet music passed from singer to singer.
Likewise, Machado has enjoyed meeting current members of the A Cappella Choir. Though she says “Degner’s still the same, the chorale program has grown under his direction… It’s really fun to be back and to see how the arts program has grown.”
At the concert’s end, the alumni presented Degner with a large box full of letters, cards, and memories along with a speech of thanks from Machado who declared “The only reason over 100 alumni showed up for this is Nate Degner,” to which an exhausted Degner responded “This weekend has exceeded all of my expectations. We may do this again… but not soon.”