Apr 19, 2024

The Spotlight — Bill Tuzicka directs his last concert of the Salina Chorale

Posted Apr 19, 2024 3:04 PM
&nbsp;Bill Tuzicka, and his wife and right hand, Susan, stand with the Salina Chorale. The chorale will perform their last concert under the direction of Tuzicka at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 21 at the Stiefel Theater. <b>Image Courtesy Leslie Manning</b>
 Bill Tuzicka, and his wife and right hand, Susan, stand with the Salina Chorale. The chorale will perform their last concert under the direction of Tuzicka at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 21 at the Stiefel Theater. Image Courtesy Leslie Manning

The Spotlight

“I probably should’ve used a dart board,” Bill Tuzicka said. “I started out with 40-50 pieces of music laid out on the table and wrote down the titles. Each one I picked has a story.”

Tuzicka will conduct his last concert with the Salina Chorale at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 21 at the Stiefel Theater. Tickets are $15 at the door.

“I couldn’t ask for better people to work with,” Tuzicka said. “Former students, acquaintances - we’re just coming together and we make music.”

Tuzicka ends not just his time with the Salina Chorale, but his residence in the community, as he and his wife, Susan, plan to move to Iowa in June, where their son, Chris, is the technical director at the University of Northern Iowa.

Making music

“When I started teaching at Southeast, I was impressed with the community,” Tuzicka said. “The people and the faculty that mentored me when I got there were just wonderful to be around.”

Tuzicka became familiar with Southeast of Saline when he was a high school student at Bison High School. His junior year of high school, he went to watch the state basketball tournament, and Assaria High School played in the tournament. The next year, when he returned to watch the tournament, the community returned a basketball team from Southeast of Saline High School, and they played Pawnee Rock, the winner of the regional bracket that Bison High School had played in.

“I decided to go to Bethany when I was in seventh grade,” Tuzicka said. “I was taking piano lessons from a lady that graduated from Bethany. Twice a year I would go down and take a master class from a piano teacher.”

He decided he wanted to be a music major in the seventh grade, also. In addition to running track and playing basketball at Bison High School, Tuzicka sang in the school’s choir, accompanied soloists for contests, played in the school’s concert band and pep band, competed in forensics and performed in the school plays.

“I started out with the oboe in fourth or fifth grade,” Tuzicka said. “As a freshman, I’d been marching with that crazy oboe, and asked to play something else. They needed another trombone player.”

In 1967, Tuzicka graduated from Bison High School and began studying music at Bethany College. It was in Lindsborg, where he met his wife, Susan.

“I was involved in Broadway RFD, and was in a couple performances there,” Tuzicka said. “My wife walked into the first rehearsal for Carousel. She was going to summer school, and there weren’t very many people to hang around, so that’s where we met. When I met her in college, I was an average student. After we starting going together and hanging out, I was a much better student. I was a much better person. She just made me better, and still does.”

Upon graduating from Bethany College with a bachelors in music education in 1971, Tuzicka sent off four or five applications for jobs - Southeast of Saline included. Jim Buxton was the principal at Southeast of Saline High School, and Eugene Flour was the principal at the middle school, and Tuzicka was invited to interview with the two of them.

“I went back to my dorm room, and someone knocked on my door,” Tuzicka said. “It was the superintendent from Southeast, Don Howe. He offered me a job.”

Tuzicka talked the opportunity over with Susan, and they decided a bird in the hand was worth three or four in the bush. Susan had one more year of college left, and the job would allow him to stay close and commute from Lindsborg.

“It was the right move,” Tuzicka said. “I never wanted to go any place else. When we were thinking of starting a family, I couldn’t think of a better place for my son or daughter to go to school than Southeast of Saline.”

According to Tuzicka, when he started teaching at Southeast of Saline, he had 18 kids in the choir.

“It was just a matter of going out and recruiting and talking to kids,” Tuzicka said. “I was young and still fairly active in sports, so I would go out and play basketball with them on weekends. I guess they thought ‘He’s not too bad, so we will go sing for him.’ I just went from there and had them come in and try it to see if they would like it.”

In his second year teaching at Southeast of Saline, Tuzicka started the Madrigal singing group after a conversation with the high school principal about how to go about the audition process.

“Buxton suggested to make sure that all the communities were involved,” Tuzicka said. “At the time he was telling me, it didn’t make much sense. It just so happened that it worked out, and I did have kids from all the communities. I really believe that part of the success I had in working with the kids out there was because of that conversation I had with Mr. Buxton.”

Tuzicka had a visceral understanding of the school district consolidation process, as Bison High School and Otis High School had consolidated shortly after he graduated from high school. His attitude for inclusion and ability to recruit nurtured a growing program.

“We started to grow, and it was fun,” Tuzicka said. “Once I got the enrollment up, I started doing musicals. I liked doing the musicals with Broadway RFD, so that was another thing we started doing.”

While growing the Southeast of Saline vocal program, his wife, Susan, would give vocal lesson to students. A couple years after Tuzicka took on the high school and middle school vocal program, an elementary music job opened up in the USD 306 school district, and she applied and was accepted.

“She was my right arm, and maybe more than that,” Tuzicka said. “Any amount of success I’ve had with what I’ve been doing, I can truthfully say, a lot of it has to do with her.”

Susan would teach the fundamentals of reading music, and inspire the love of music.

“By the time they got to me, they were so well prepared,” Tuzicka said. “They had an appreciation for music and they understood music. The elementary music teachers all across the nation are the building blocks of whatever takes place in the high schools and colleges, because they learn the stuff down there. That’s where they learn to enjoy it, and that’s what is important.”

The preparation from Susan at the elementary level, allowed Tuzicka to manage a vocal program that averaged 70-80 students in the choir, at 3A Southeast of Saline High School. One year, he remembers having a choir of over 110 students.

When Southeast of Saline USD 306 opened a K-12 building in 1978, Tuzicka offered tech classes. He had been taking some classes in Wichita in tech theater, and worked on some things with some of the technical people at Century II.

“There needed to be a group of students that understood the technical theater and how things worked in there, so we could maintain what was taking place,” Tuzicka said. “The design of the theater was a design for a multi-performance room. It worked for what we did.”

According to Tuzicka, when the building was first designed, the theater was about twice as big as it is, and the choral and band rooms were bigger. He says the whole building was much more elaborate, even including a swimming pool in the original design.

“Of course, the price on that, I don’t think that ever made it to the public to see,” Tuzicka said. “Things had to be cut back and changed.”

The theater was a trending design at the time, one that can also be seen at Beloit High School and Cloud County Community College. The movement was to go away from a proscenium type theater, and make spaces not so formal.

“We made some changes to it, to make it a formal concert venue,” Tuzicka said. “It made it more of a performance area, as opposed to just an open air space. We made it more of like a theater as much as we possibly could.”

The timing was near perfect, as the Southeast of Saline theater wasn’t the only new performance venue being constructed. The Salina Bicentennial Center was built in 1976, and Tuzicka was asked to work there with spotlighting.

“It was a part-time job, and then it kept snowballing, where I was doing more and more,” Tuzicka said. “I got involved with the stage hand union, and I was working all over Kansas helping set up different shows and concerts. It was kind of like on the job training for me. I would bring those things back to Southeast of Saline, like ideas for play sets. I would go see how the pros did it, and bring that information back to Southeast and try it there. It worked out very well.”

As the students at Southeast of Saline became adept in the technical side of performances, many started helping Tuzicka set up for shows at the Salina Bicentennial Center.

“There were times when I didn’t have things going on at Southeast, I would take seniors in,” Tuzicka said. “The acts always brought their own sound and lighting people. It was our job to get them set up and going right.”

After 1996, when the Fox Theater Discover Group formed to research the viability of the Fox Theater in downtown Salina, Tuzicka was called on to share his experience in theater technology.

“I knew they were refurbishing the theater, and since I was involved with some of the things over at the Bicentennial Center at the time, they called me and asked me to come in and look at the plans for the theater for bringing in concerts and so forth,” Tuzicka said. “I said ‘Here are a couple thing you might want to consider or redo or look at.’ That kind of started it, and they asked me to come in and help more.”

The Stiefel Theater opened in 2002, and by 2006, when Tuzicka retired from teaching at Southeast of Saline, the facility was starting to do more and more shows. Tuzicka was hired as the technical director, also overseeing the facility maintenance. The technical director at the Stiefel Theater involves similar job responsibilities as that of the Bicentennial Center, taking care of everything on the stage in terms of lighting and sound - setting it up so the lighting and sound guys will have the best control possible.

“It was kind of an extension of the career at Southeast of Saline,” Tuzicka said. “This is the greatest working environment. I’m so lucky to have the people, the board, Jane Gates, everbody. The best thing about my job, I get a chance to talk to some of these (performers.) My door is always open. They walk in. Martina McBride said it looks like someone actually works in here.”

Also upon retirement from teaching at Southeast, Tuzicka and his wife, Susan, joined the Salina Chorale under the direction of Dr. Joseph Figg. When health issues prevented Dr. Figg from continuing with the chorale in 2009, Tuzicka was asked to take over and finish out the semester.

“I’ve been doing it ever since,” Tuzicka said. “It’s my therapy. Every Monday night, I go to therapy.”

Telling the story

The last concert of the Salina Chorale, under the direction of Tuzicka, will involve some Southeast of Saline vocal program history.

“I think one of the things about music, there’s no such thing as a piece of music you’ve done, that cannot be elaborated on or made better,” Tuzicka said. “It’s never perfect. It’s always a work in progress. You can never be satisfied with it, because it is never done.”

In 1996, Tuzicka took his first group of students to sing in Washington D.C. One of the first stops when arriving in Washington D.C. was a visit to the Albert Einstein statue. The students crawled all over the statue for a photo opportunity, and Tuzicka, in an impromptu moment, directed the group in the song by the King Singers, You are the New Day.

“That was the first piece any of my choirs sang in Washington D.C.,” Tuzicka said. “The hope for a new day is what keeps everybody going.”

Along with You are the New Day, the Salina Chorale will sing Corner of the Sky from the musical Pippin. Pippin was the musical performed at Southeast of Saline in the fall of 1997, his son, Chris’s, senior year of high school.

A song titled, Kittery, is one of Southeast of Saline’s historical performance pieces, a version of the Lord’s Prayer sang with a kind of sound you can hear in Slovac countries.

“It’s a little bit different,” Tuzicka said. “It is a harsh sound. No great beautiful singing, so it is going to clean everybody’s ears to start with.”

Other pieces on the setlist include One Tin Soldier; Lonesome Road by James Taylor; Shenandoah; Cantique de Jean Racine; Prayer of the Children; Home in the Heartland - a piece from Riverdance written about the plains and the Midwest; River of Judea and The Old Irish Blessing as the encore. The Salina Chorale will also perform Home on the Range, because Tuzicka assumes that if he ever directs a choir in Iowa, they are probably not going to let him do Home on the Range.

A song special to the Salina Chorale, God Be in My Head, will be included in the set, as a remembrance to Dr. Joseph Figg.

“I am going to miss the community and I’m going to miss the people and I’m going to miss what I do, but, just turn the page,” Tuzicka said. “How much I feel indebted to the community at Southeast of Saline. I was so lucky to somehow get into that community, and they accepted me. I have always had the highest amount of respect for the people who are on the school board out there, the people who stepped forward and had the well being of the students and the young people of the community at heart. That’s doesn’t just come from the school board, that comes from all the community.