by marlys good
“It’s been a great gig, a great life, and I’ve made some incredible friends,” said Darla Haller on the eve of her retirement after teaching choral music in Greybull schools for 32 years.
Darla knew when she was in the fifth grade (in Choteau, Mont.) that she was going to teach music; it was born and bred in her. She comes from sturdy Norwegian/Lutheran stock, a family of “phenomenal musicians. There was always music, music. We sang in church and in the Lutheran church,” she laughed, “every hymn is sung in four parts.”
Her parents/grandparents played for all the dances around Choteau. So it was no wonder her career choice was music.
She attended Concordia College in Minnesota, and after earning her degree she applied for teaching positions in five schools – and was offered a job in all five.
“The difference in pay was huge,” she said, explaining why, in 1983, she elected to sign a contract with Big Horn County School District No. 3 to teach K-12 choral and classroom music.
“I thought I’d teach here for a couple of years, then move on to a bigger school,” she laughed. “Then I met Dave (Haller),” she added with a smile. If she wasn’t going to teach at a “bigger school” she would just make music here “better.” And she has certainly done that.
Haller teamed up with Ted Menke and thus the popular fall musicals were born. “That year we did ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.’” The seven-man cast included the now mayor of Jackson, Sara Flitner, and Gordon Preis, who in 1983, had a beautiful soprano voice (Yes, it changed. He still has a beautiful voice, but no longer sings soprano).
“The fall musical was my favorite thing,” she said. Along with Menke, Darla helped direct, produce, make sets, gather costumes and was in the “pit” accompanying the cast. “Then I decided to spread the joy,” and the musicals expanded to include an untold number of unsung community volunteers.
Among the productions were “Annie,” “Camelot,” “Music Man,” Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Working,” and Haller’s personal favorite, “Into the Woods.” Although, she added quickly, “There was not a show I didn’t like.”
The Hummingbirds, talented first through fifth graders who sing delightfully in harmony, have entertained the community for years. There are the recorder and the shake/rattle/roll groups. The elementary Christmas programs have filled the auditorium every year; what started as an all-inclusive one-night program was extended to two nights (K-2 and 3-5) due to the standing-room only audiences. She is quick to give credit to her husband for the success of the programs. “He has been an integral part of them; I couldn’t have done them without him.”
Her job description has changed along the way. She gave up the high school choir position and moved to the elementary/middle school.
Her love of music, and her love of children, is evident as she describes her teaching methods, demonstrating hand signals, almost a sign language, she uses as she ties to instill her love of music in her students.
“Music is a visual thing,” she said, especially for those who are not fluent in English. If they sing a song that refers to “hoe cakes,” she gives them a short history of hoe cakes (thin bread made with cornmeal).
“Music connects with everything,” she emphasizes. It’s not just rote.”
Haller was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis some years ago and it has taken its toll, mostly fatigue. “It is overwhelming at times,” she explains. “By the end of the day, it (teaching) has taken all I have.”
Teaching music is such a large part of Haller’s life; she wants to do it well; wants to be excellent to the end. At the same time, she “wants to be 80 years old and still enjoying life,” so she made the decision to retire.
“I’m going to have to decide who I am going to be,” she laughs. “For 32 years I’ve been the ‘music lady.’”
She will still be a “music lady,” she just won’t be teaching it but it will remain a huge part of her life.
She does have plans. “I have friends all over I want to visit; go see my mom and family in Choteau, take classes, do some substitute teaching, Dave and I have a camper and we love the mountains; it’s cool up there in the summer, we can go hang out, and I want to read, read, read, do some creative things, use things I have to make gifts.”
The Hallers have led a full life; Greybull has been good to them, and, “It was a wonderful place to raise (daughter) Jill,” Darla said.
Greybull’s “music lady” won’t have to reinvent herself. Music will still be an integral part of her life. The district has been lucky to have a teacher of her caliber pass on her love of music to the community’s young people for 32 years.