It has been almost 20 years since my once-shy little girl came out of her shell as Suzy Snowflake.
Credit Jim Wanker.
In fact, she came so far out of her shell during that Christmas concert at Richey Elementary School that one straitlaced woman in the audience complained she was more naughty than nice. My shy little fifth-grader?!
Credit that to Jim Wanker, too.
My daughter still defends the performance, which got a bit risque in the middle when Suzy morphed into Tina Turner wailing Proud Mary: "How can you imitate Tina Turner and not get wild?''
Even as a young music teacher, Wanker demonstrated an uncommon talent to connect with children and give them the confidence to sing out loud in front of strangers. In the shower, we're all McCartney or Elvis, Barbra or Madonna. But put us on a stage and the mouth goes dry.
Three years after my first daughter blossomed, her little sister sang for Mr. Wanker at Cotee River Elementary. We watched him work his magic with a whole new set of kids, even taking them to Washington to sing patriotic songs on the steps of the Capitol.
He has done this time and again. A couple of years ago he pulled off one of the most ambitious road trips you'll ever see at this level. His kids sang in Hawaii for its 50th anniversary of U.S. statehood.
Word gets around when you have a great teacher like Jim Wanker, who has been music director at Longleaf Elementary in Trinity since it opened in 2004. Kids want to try out for his chorus even though it means long practice sessions on their own time.
The evidence was clear Tuesday night as Wanker led more than 120 fourth- and fifth-graders onto the stage at the Center for the Arts at River Ridge. At one point, they joined the Longleaf Faculty Chorus and an angelic soloist named Patty Wanker — Jim's wife. We don't have children in school anymore, but watching the holiday season concert brought back warm memories and inspired me to tell you about it.
It also ignited in me for the first time this year the spirit of Christmas.
A few nights earlier, Wanker's kids joined with students from four other elementary schools, a high school and a middle school for a 400-voice concert they called "Southwest Pasco Sings.'' This gave Wanker the opportunity to appeal to the community and the policymakers who determine how to allocate tax dollars in these difficult times.
Who better to advocate for music programs?
Jim Wanker wouldn't know me if we ran into each other in the local coffee shop. But if we did, I would tell him how grateful I am for his influence on my daughters. I am pleased to say they still sing out loud and clear every day.
And not just in the shower.