Choir director retires after 44 years in the business

CLAUDIA YOUNG/THE ARKA TECH: Students in Concert Chorale surprise Gary Morris, choir director, with a group hug.
CLAUDIA YOUNG/THE ARKA TECH: Morris directing Concert Chorale. The choir is preparing for a concert on Feb. 23.

Students come and go through Arkansas Tech University’s choirs, but one thing has remained the same: the wise words and experienced directing of Gary Morris. All of this will change come summer.

This is his forty-fourth and final year of directing. Morris, choir director of 15 years at Tech, is retiring after the spring semester.

“He’s been doing this for so long, but he still goes so deep into each person,” Caleb Reynolds, vocal music education major from Hot Springs, said.

Morris started directing choirs when he was a junior in high school. In 1998, Morris retired from teaching in public schools. He came out of retirement to teach at Lyon College in Batesville for a year, and then spent a semester teaching at University of Mississippi as a visiting conductor. Shortly after, he received a job offer at Tech. In the 15 years he has been at Tech, the choirs have doubled in size.

It was not an easy decision to retire from Tech, but he decided to because of his age.

“It’s just time,” Morris said. “I want to spend more time with my grandchildren before they’re too old to want to spend time with me.”

CLAUDIA YOUNG/THE ARKA TECH: Morris warms up the choir.

His final semester will contain the usual events: three concerts and a tour. Morris has one special change planned. The choirs will be repeating some past music, and he will be inviting choir alumni to come up and sing “The Plans I Have for You” by Jonathan Adams, the song Morris has ended many concerts with.

Morris said that he will miss the daily rehearsals and the kids the most.

“Gary is so respected as a colleague and as a choir director in this state,” Holly Ruth Gale, associate professor of music and fellow choir director, said. “One of the things I love most about him is he wants these students to be wonderful teachers. And he wants them to carry into their classrooms this love and passion for music, and not what he can do for not just our student’s lives, but for the lives of the students they’re teaching.”

In fact, Morris used his wisdom as the choir director at First United Methodist Church to help guide Reynolds as a worship pastor at First Baptist Church – Dardanelle.

“His whole goal with me was to teach me how to handle people and teach me how to understand the people side of it,” Reynolds said. “He would take me aside and teach me things that he would not tell the other students, so the fact that he pointed to me specifically is the coolest thing ever.”

While they are still drafting the job description, Morris said he isn’t worried about who will replace him.

“I am confident they will find somebody,” he said. “The program has grown and we want to keep it that way. We’ve taught a lot of new teachers and a lot of students go onto grad school, and we’re proud of that.”

Gale said she is optimistic about whoever will replace Morris.

“The next chapter is going to be a happy chapter because Gary has left us in a wonderful position with a very strong program,” she said. “The next person will have the benefit of all those years of preparation and work that he’s done.”

Although he is retiring from directing, Morris will still be running his business, J+B Music Sales, with his wife. During the summer, he will continue to produce CDs for All Region and All State auditions.

“Eventually, the plan is to retire from that as well and sell it to someone else,” he said.

Fully retiring would allow Morris more time to visit more places in the States that he has never visited or hasn’t visited recently. He plans on staying in the U.S. because he has already travelled abroad many times and would like to see more of America.

Morris is ready to enjoy the sights but is grateful for his time at Tech.

“I wish Tech well and I want to thank them for allowing me to do what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Morris said. “That was always my dream, to be able to teach teachers and conduct college choirs.”

About Claudia Young 58 Articles
Claudia Young was the Editor-in-Chief of The Arka Tech (2015-2016)