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Carrying a Tune: Part-Time Music Teacher Travels From School to School

  • Bridgewater Village School music teacher Wanda Clark welcomes parents and family members during the school's holiday concert on Dec. 11, 2013 in Bridgewater, Vt. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Bridgewater Village School music teacher Wanda Clark welcomes parents and family members during the school's holiday concert on Dec. 11, 2013 in Bridgewater, Vt.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Christmas Jubilation sits on the music stand at the Bridgewater Village School  on Dec. 11, 2013, in Bridgewater, Vt. This was the song the students sang to start their holiday concert. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Christmas Jubilation sits on the music stand at the Bridgewater Village School on Dec. 11, 2013, in Bridgewater, Vt. This was the song the students sang to start their holiday concert. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • First grader Edie Shipman has a quick drink before her class lines up for her school's holday concert on Dec. 11, 2013 in Bridgewater, Vt. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    First grader Edie Shipman has a quick drink before her class lines up for her school's holday concert on Dec. 11, 2013 in Bridgewater, Vt.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridgewater Village School kindergarten students, from left, Havayla Aspen, Riley O'Neal, and Kaylee Reichardt sing during the school's holiday concert on Dec. 11, 2013, in Bridgewater, Vt.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Bridgewater Village School kindergarten students, from left, Havayla Aspen, Riley O'Neal, and Kaylee Reichardt sing during the school's holiday concert on Dec. 11, 2013, in Bridgewater, Vt.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Coleman Waters, a kindergarten student at the Bridgewater Village School and  winner of the tree raffle, asks Principal Tedd Brown a few questions about picking up the tree. Music teacher Wanda Clark stands beside them, on Dec. 11, 2013, in Brigewater, Vt. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Coleman Waters, a kindergarten student at the Bridgewater Village School and winner of the tree raffle, asks Principal Tedd Brown a few questions about picking up the tree. Music teacher Wanda Clark stands beside them, on Dec. 11, 2013, in Brigewater, Vt.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridgewater Village School music teacher Wanda Clark welcomes parents and family members during the school's holiday concert on Dec. 11, 2013 in Bridgewater, Vt. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Christmas Jubilation sits on the music stand at the Bridgewater Village School  on Dec. 11, 2013, in Bridgewater, Vt. This was the song the students sang to start their holiday concert. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • First grader Edie Shipman has a quick drink before her class lines up for her school's holday concert on Dec. 11, 2013 in Bridgewater, Vt. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Bridgewater Village School kindergarten students, from left, Havayla Aspen, Riley O'Neal, and Kaylee Reichardt sing during the school's holiday concert on Dec. 11, 2013, in Bridgewater, Vt.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Coleman Waters, a kindergarten student at the Bridgewater Village School and  winner of the tree raffle, asks Principal Tedd Brown a few questions about picking up the tree. Music teacher Wanda Clark stands beside them, on Dec. 11, 2013, in Brigewater, Vt. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Bridgewater — By the time Christmas Eve arrived, Santa was pretty tired and a little bit cranky. At least, that is, the Santa portrayed in Bridgewater Village School’s holiday concert last week.

Onstage, the third- and fourth-grade class sang There’s Someone in the Chimney, conducted by Wanda Clark. During the song, fourth-grader Hailey Cannon, who played Santa, shouted in annoyance, prompting laughs from staff members watching the dress rehearsal.

“I’m trying to work in here!” Hailey shouted from inside a cardboard chimney draped with red lights.

The 4-foot tall prop is just one of the many tools Clark, a traveling music teacher, trundles around in her pearl-white Subaru Forester. On recent mornings, three guitar-playing snowmen and a gigantic snowflake rode along with her regular cargo — a guitar and music folders, lunch and a laptop.

A Lyme native, Clark earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Keene State in 1984. Since then, she’s worked in several local schools, including Richmond Middle School in Hanover and State Street School in Windsor. This year, Clark is teaching at Grantham Village School, where she’s worked part time for 14 years, and at Bridgewater Village School, filling in for longtime music teacher Marcia Bender, who is on leave for the year.

“I’d like to be full time. I think most music teachers would like to be,” said Clark, who lives in White River Junction. But with the tough economy and small school populations, “it’s really hard.”

Being a part-time employee means she is ineligible for most of the schools’ benefits, she said. “Health insurance in a really big issue.”

Still, being a traveling teacher has its upside. “If you have a not such a good day in one school, the next day you have a whole new set of faces and people,” she said.

Her schedule varies from day to day. In Grantham, she teaches general music and meets with students at lunchtime, recess, and before and after school to lead a chorus, guitar club and handbell ensemble.

“Those are things that the kids really look forward to,” said Heather Cantagallo, Grantham Village School principal. “For some kids that’s where they shine, and it’s really great that they have the opportunity to do that.”

Both schools are K-6, but they differ in size. The Grantham school, where Clark teaches three days a week, has about 250 students. During concerts, she might have 80 children onstage at a time. The Bridgewater school, where she works one day a week, has about 40 students, so the groups are much smaller, often comprising several classes.

“Some grades are really tiny, so if they were to sing by themselves, they probably wouldn’t be heard,” said Bridgewater Village School Principal Tedd Brown.

To ensure their sound carried in the cafeteria, where the stage is located, Clark’s been teaching the students to sing out. “This morning, when everyone came together, I thought they sounded strong,” she said Wednesday. “They are really coming together.”

Preparing for the concert was a schoolwide effort. Bender accompanied the groups on piano, and Clark recorded the songs for the classroom teachers, who worked on the music with their students.

“They’ve been practicing really hard,” Clark said.

During the dress rehearsal, various groups took turns onstage, performing a mix of traditional and contemporary tunes. After they performed, the kindergartners sat on a thick blue mat, listening to the older students sing.

Madison McConnell flashed a big grin when asked about her first holiday concert. Her favorite song? “All of it,” she said.

For the fifth-graders, the jazzy Frosty Hand Jive, which they sang with the sixth-graders, seemed to be the favorite.

“I like the tune of it,” said Tobin Calder. Her classmates said they liked the choreography — hand jive moves they’d learned last year. “It actually fit with the song,” Riley Earle said.

The holiday concert, one of two the Bridgewater students will perform this year, is popular with both parents and staff. About 100 people usually attend, Brown said.

“It will be standing room only.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.