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The piece of music employing the most musicians is Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1, which calls for 890 singers and instrumentalists.

Features Page 13 n December 18, 2012 thekirkwoodcall.com

The average age of retirement for a citizen of the United States is currently 67, the highest it has been in history.

Music is his first language Kyle Rieger features editor When he was younger, Nicholas Becker never talked much. He spoke when spoken to, but if he had something to say, Nicholas would choose to use the musical notes A-G instead of the alphabet letters A-Z. Nicholas, sophomore, has been enrolled in speech therapy since kindergarten because of his struggle with a stutter. Nicholas said spoken communication has always been more difficult for him than for most people. “I don’t know how [my stutter] developed, but without it, I would have lost my focus in music,” Nicholas said. “Music allows me to express myself when words can’t. When I was

younger, it was difficult to speak, but the music just came naturally.” Becker is capable of playing 12 musical instruments including violin, piano and guitar, but has never had a music lesson. Because all of his talent was developed independently, he describes his abilities as a gift from God. “Music is a first language for me, in a way,” Nicholas said. “I can express how I feel through the music better than I can with words. I like to hide behind the instruments.” Originally from California, Becker attended eight schools before enrolling at KHS, where he plans to continue attending until graduation. Becker selected KHS for its music program, specifically the orchestra,

and hopes to attend The Juilliard School in New York City for music. Toni Saputo, a bassist in the KHS orchestra and senior, met Becker through the school’s music program. “He’s very talented, especially for being at such a young age,” Saputo said. “He was new and I wanted to welcome him. I learned he’s a really good violinist, a tight instrumentalist and is really personable. I didn’t even notice he had a stutter.” Today, after years of speech therapy, Nicholas’s speech has significantly improved from when he was younger. But despite years of work, his stutter still has an impact on his life. “It has been very hard for Nicholas [to have the stutter],” Trina Becker, Nicholas’ mother,

said. “He wants us to order his food at restaurants for him, and if we tell him he has to do it himself, he won’t eat.” But for any setbacks the stutter may have caused Nicholas, it has sharpened and refined his musicianship. His mother said she is very proud of Nicholas for not allowing his stutter to inhibit him. “To watch him discover his love for music has been humbling for me,” Trina said. “When he would speak, people looked at him almost like he had some sort of handicap. Then people respond to him playing his music. They stop us and say they can’t believe he hasn’t had private lessons. He has grown and matured so much through the instruments, it makes me cry.”

Nicholas Becker plays violin, vibraphone, piano and marimba in the band room.

Grant McKenna photographer

Teachers take the “tired” out of retired Does retirement mark the end of an individual’s worthwhile contributions to society? Do Bingo winnings replace a legitimate income? For three teachers at KHS, their “retirements” were not meant to end their roles as educators, but simply to give them more time with their families.

Jake Balmer features writer They make up somewhat of an exclusive KHS club. They hold no meetings, they go on no trips, but they all have a certain mutual understanding. Stephen Platte, social studies teacher, has his iconic white hair, moustache and seasoned wisdom; Nancy Menchhofer, English teacher, rarely uses her Activboard; Lieschen Fink, dance teacher, blames her occasional lapses in operating her class CD player on old age. These three teachers, the retired, parttime teachers of KHS, are anything but typical, tired veterans of the profession. Platte insists that whether he is considered ‘retired,’ or ‘part-time,’ it has nothing to do with fatigue of any kind. In fact, his official retirement has resulted in the opposite. “Anybody that’s in my classes, always ask how I’m so cheery, how I have so much energy, and it’s because I have a shorter schedule,” Platte said. “It’s so much easier to be rested and ready to go.”

Each of these teachers retired due to family reasons. “The point of my retirement was to be involved in the lives of my young [at the time] kids, because it’s rare to have that opportunity since I’m an older father,” Platte said. Menchhofer retired due to her husband’s early-onset Alzheimer’s five years ago, and Fink due to her mother’s development of an immune disorder two years ago. “My mom took care of my kids for 33 years while I taught and coached, and then it was my turn,” Fink said. “I really owed it to her to take care of her.” Fink claims she was not positive about retiring until she felt she absolutely had to. “If I had known my mother would have been fine, I probably would not have retired,” Fink said. “My advice to other teachers is not to retire unless you really need to.” Though his children have become more independent since the beginning of Platte’s retirement nine years ago, he claims teaching part-time, teaching three classes as opposed to five, has given him very little free time.

“The planets rarely align enough for me to have any extra free time,” Platte said. “It’s not like I can go play golf every day after school.” Instead of engaging in leisure activities while his cohorts in the social studies department grade tests, Platte has taken the time to improve the overall scope of his teaching. “I have more time now to provide some individualization and more personalized instruction,” Platte said. “The expanded use of technology has also come a long way, considering when I retired.” Menchhofer agrees that even with less classes to teach, she does not necessarily have more free time. “Time is like money, because you basically fill the time that you have,” Menchhofer said. Platte taught at Oakville High School for 14 years before coming to Kirkwood. He cites similar reasons for coming to and staying at KHS. “I came to Kirkwood specifically because I knew it was an innovative place, and it was a good school when I got here, but it has become a great school since,” Platte said. “I know it sounds cliché, but it gets better every year.”

Lieschen Fink

Stephen Platte

KelseyNancy Landrum photographer Menchhofer


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