Award-Winning Singers Reunite In Ponca City To Honor Beloved Teacher
PONCA CITY, Oklahoma - A retired Ponca City music teacher got the surprise of a lifetime over the weekend, seeing his students in action decades after they left his classroom.
Former Po-Hi Chorale director Robert Moore turns 80 this month, and his gift came in the form of a concert.
Under the bright lights of the Poncan Theatre, the local star was honored for his role in the lives of hundreds of kids who grew up in the town. Arriving in style in a limousine, greeted with flashing lights and a rousing standing ovation, Moore enjoyed celebrity status on a special night.
Of the 900 students under his leadership from 1966 to 1996, more than 270 of the Po-Hi Chorale members made the journey home, from nearby and as far away as Ireland and Panama.
They all describe him as a disciplinarian who pulled them beyond what they thought they had in them. That is why the Chorale won competitions around the country every year that Moore served as director.
“He expected the best out of us, and therefore we gave the best that we had,” said Katy Cutler-Art, class of ’75, who made the trip from Clearwater, Fla.
“I will meet people who were at Po-Hi in ’69 and people who were there in ’96, and we still have things in common, just because of Mr. Moore,” added Lorri Curto, class of ’80, who says the choir director invited her into the group when she was still new to the school and struggling to fit in. She now lives in Houston.
“I haven’t come back for any of my high school reunions, but having the opportunity to come back and honor Mr. Moore was something I just couldn’t pass up,” said Susan Clay Vitkavage, class of ’79, who traveled from Orlando.
The impact Moore had, is clear for the Chorale alumni, so they made it their mission to perform some of their favorites for their favorite teacher. Some of the emotional selections brought tears to Moore’s eyes, like “Kumbaya” and the Christmas song “Still, Still, Still”.
Rehearsing for the first time together just hours earlier, the award-winning singers say the memories come flooding back.
“He would stop you in the hall and ask you to sing a specific note,” Vitkavage recalled.
“Mr. Moore demanded excellence at a time that I didn’t even get what that was,” said Cindy Zellmer-Weber, class of ’79, who traveled from Sioux City, Iowa. Her three siblings all sang in the Chorale as well.
Some of the singers have even gone on to perform professionally all over the globe, all because of him.
“Had I not found that love of Classical music from Mr. Moore, it wouldn’t have happened,” admitted John Atkins, class of ’76, who now works in Los Angeles as a professional opera singer.
For Moore, this is a birthday he will never forget. He told the crowd after the concert, “Thank you so much for this. You’ll never know what it means to me and to my family. I loved you then, and I love you now.”