By Craig Day, The News On 6

NOWATA, OK -- This time of year, music students from all over are holding their annual holiday concerts. One performance in our area is extra special and even more meaningful this year.

The show choir at Nowata High School is practicing for a big performance. They are just a matter of hours away from their Christmas concert.

"We've been working on it ever since the beginning of school," said Zac Hunter, student.

"We want it to be the best that it can be," said Rikki Hunter, student.

The annual performance is always a special time but some wondered if the Christmas concert would happen at all this year.

Robert Jones loved music all of his life and for nearly three decades, he taught children, thousands of them over the years, to love music too.

"He helped me to realize my passion for singing," said Rachael Wickham, Student.

"Now I actually love music, I sing all the time," said Maddie Bell, student.

When Jones didn't show up at school Monday morning in Nowata, teachers and even students were worried.

Two weeks from Christmas, at what should be a joyous and festive time, a heart attack took his life at 51.

"I thought no. He can't be," Bell said.

"There's no way to replace his spirit, or his energy, or the way he interacted with the kids," said Bron Williams, Nowata High Principal.

"We all loved him. He was probably everybody's favorite teacher," Wickham said.

"It didn't seem real until we actually came back to school and he wasn't here," Rikki said.

Students wrote condolence messages on a banner that now hangs outside Mr. Jones' classroom.

No one knew if the kids would want or be able to go on with the holiday program without him. No one would blame them if, in their shock and disbelief, they didn't.

They decided to do it, for him.

"I don't think he would just want us to give up, after everything that we worked for," Wickham said.

"He would say you guys need to get out there and do it, because we worked too hard on it to just quit," Rikki said.

So with a volunteer on piano and guidance from the school's band director, they're practicing again; practicing with a purpose.

"I think he'll be proud," Wickham said.

Finally, it is time. The students are all dressed up. The gym is filled with friends and classmates, parents and grandparents and there on the front row, sits Robert Jones' family.

Through the tears, through the butterflies and lumps in their throats, they sang.

They sang their hearts out.

They sang beautifully for Mr. Jones.

"I can just see my dad looking down on them, he'd be smiling.  He loved these kids, he loved music period in general and just to hear them he would be proud," said Rodney Grayson, Jones' son.

"I was trying to keep myself together, but I could see his teaching, he loved children.  He loved children.  He didn't want to do nothing else, this was his life," said Gerald Jones, Jones' brother.

Though their hearts are heavy, they lifted their voices for a man leaving behind a lasting legacy; lives touched, futures enriched, melodies taught and memories of music.