Singers return from everywhere to honor Gig Harbor choir teacher with a final concert

Retiring from 30 years as choir director at Gig Harbor High with a final concert of his Meistersingers at the Chapel Hill auditorium last week, Wayne Lackman was overwhelmed when, to his total surprise, the stage filled with alumni who flew in for the concert from the Bay area, Utah, Colorado — even London — to join the current Meistersingers in a rousing rendition of favorite musical selections for a grand finale.

In their dedication to Lackman, the alumni had rehearsed the songs for two months to make it a memory for him to carry forever.

Shannan Lunde, class of 2006, “had a really interesting conversation with my mom this morning about our performance/alumni presence last night. She said it finally dawned on her exactly what Mr. Lackman and Meisters in general meant to us.

“She said she didn’t realize how deep-rooted it was and how important a time in my life and all of our lives it was. We all loved it. We had friendships, favorite songs, stories for days. But she thought it was just a favorite class, a normal favorite teacher. It didn’t hit her ‘til she saw last night exactly how deep that love and passion ran and just how formative the Meisters years were for all of us.”

“For so many of us, choir in high school was family, and Wayne was Dad,” said Cameron Pruitt, class of 1997. “What a truly great Dad he was. He loved us, inspired us, laughed with us and pushed us to excellence. Personally, I was forced by my parents growing up to take piano, then band. By high school, I was a little burned out and asked to take choir. They agreed as long as I took voice lessons, too. Wayne brought back an inspiration and passion for music in me. I went on to music college and a career in music. I don’t know if that would have happened without Wayne.”

“Last night was such an interesting mix of emotions for me,” said Sean Leacy, class of 2001. “Part of me wanted to cry thinking through all of the history and lives touched by Lackman, but an overwhelming part of me was simply proud to be a part of his legacy. Lives were touched and shaped by the countless hours he’s spent investing in each student who walks through his doors. The showing last night was proof of it. GHHS will not be the same without him.”

“Mr. Lackman had a profound impact on my formative years, showing compassion and understanding and giving me a sense of hope during a critical time in my life,” said Rachel Lauritzen Shelton, class of 1998. “Starting in 1996, I spent three years in Concert Choir, Meistersingers, and Vocal Motion, and these experiences gave me the gift of community, camaraderie, acceptance, and best of all, music — all of which I have carried with me in my life. Performing O Magnum Mysterium, a song we sang in 1997 in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, at his final concert, is a memory I will treasure.”

“Wayne Lackman played a pivotal role during my high school years,” said Marla (Haley) Newton, class of 1991. “Choir provided me an identity, close friendships and a place to belong. Mr. Lackman helped to foster all of that! The lessons learned are skills and characteristics I still practice today: Practice hard; give it your all; come prepared; if you make a mistake, work to fix it; include others and find a common sound, lead by example and finish strong. I had the pleasure of being in his inaugural GHHS concert and his finale. So proud to be a part of Mr. Lackman’s opus!”

Emy Vandestreek, who will graduate with the class of 2020 said, “Mr.Lackman has played such a positive role in my life. His class has been the one that brightens my day when it’s going rough. He genuinely cares for all his students. I feel like Tuesday night was the best way to thank him and just appreciate all he’s done for us. ”

Michael Biddle who graduated in 2004 remembered, “My family moved to Gig Harbor as I was going into eighth grade, so by my first year of high school, I really had not made any friends. Mr. Lackman welcomed me into the Meistersinger choir, and immediately I knew that this was something special, something important, and would lead to so many cherished memories.”

“I thought joining choir would be something fun to do and probably not that difficult. Mr Lackman taught us to work hard to be the best we could be and challenge ourselves. He didn’t let us just be mediocre and he really cared about each of us which is not something most teachers do,” said Alex Wilkins, grad year 2001.

“As a teenager, I couldn’t understand the effort Mr. Lackman poured into his students,” declared Jonathan Wilson, class of 1997. “As an adult, I can understand it, but I cannot fathom it.”

“I dreaded high school, the environment, the atmosphere, everything,” said Alexandra Stevens, grad year 2010. “But Mr. Lackman gave me an escape. He gave me a family inside school. He taught me many skills that I still use with music and people to this day. Not only that, he pushed me, he gave me a purpose. If you thought you were joining choir for an easy elective, you were sorely mistaken. It was hard work, but he gave us something to look forward to. Lackman was there for us even when he had his own family struggles. He made you feel like you mattered, even your one voice of over 50 others singing. He didn’t give up on you.

“Being in Meistersingers will forever be one of the highlights of my life, and it is because of Mr. Lackman,” said Kellie Fagerstrom, who graduated in 2006. “He always demanded excellence from his students; he never settled for less than we were capable of. He spent time building relationships with his students, and because we felt cared for and encouraged, he was able to get the best out of us. I absolutely loved being a part of Tuesday night’s surprise. It was such a joy to be a part of something bigger than me. As a teacher, it was also such a blessing to see the impact that one single teacher can have over the course of 30 years.”

“If it weren’t for Mr. Lackman having such a positive role in my life at GHHS, I probably wouldn’t have showed up on Tuesday for his last concert,” said Lauren (Blas) Martin, class of 2005. “I really struggled to find my place in high school. But, having Mr. Lackman as a teacher really made that anxiety and confusion just disappear while I was in his class singing. It was a safe place for so many of us to come and just be ourselves while we united together in song. Singing on Tuesday night, it was as if time froze. I was back in a familiar place and nothing had changed. Mr. Lackman muttered “meet you at the end,” and I just knew, in that moment, all the practicing no longer mattered. We would sing our best because it was he who encouraged us all to do our best. Thank you Mr. Lackman for your time and love to each of your students. The halls of GHHS will never be the same.”

For Jenifer Green, class of 1995, “Tuesday night was such an amazing experience to be able to honor and be a part of Mr. Lackman’s final concert, a man who meant so such to me as a singer and person. His encouragement and love of music played a major role in my life as a musician. I had chills up on the stage seeing the look of shock, wonder and love on his face when we all gathered.”

“Mr. Lackman’s guidance through three choirs and a music theory course and his supervision as I started a fourth choir for a senior project directed me on my path to being a professional composer and performer today,” explained Marian Call, class of 2000. “He encouraged me to arrange music for choir and gave me resources to seek excellence in singing, coaching, and conducting. My career as a musician has his philosophy and influence behind it for nearly 20 years now.”

Said director Lackman days after the event, “The evening was pretty overwhelming for me musically and emotionally. I am still trying to wrap my head around it. I think it is a testament to the positive power of music in peoples’ lives ... and music’s power to impact people for good. It can be life-changing.”

Cameron Pruitt did a Facebook live stream of the concert. He said people all over the United States were watching live, even East Coasters until 2:00 am — and there was also someone in Germany viewing.