Miss Gladys Freethy, a retired choral music teacher at Ishpeming High School, and the late Professor Arthur J. Hill, choral director at Suomi College in Hancock for 21 years, were the recipients of the 1998 U. P. Choral Leadership Award.
Miss Freethy was born in Ishpeming in 1906 in the house where she still lives. She graduated from Ishpeming High School in 1924, and in 1929 earned a Bachelor of Music degree from what is now Northern Michigan University. She attended summer sessions at Western Michigan University.
Her career began in Champion in 1929 where she taught for twelve years, followed by one year in Ishpeming, three years in Traverse City, and two years in St. Clair. She returned to Ishpeming for twenty-two years (1948-1970) and developed a K-12 choral program. Her high school choruses consistently received excellent ratings at choral festivals. She maintained Boys' and Girls' Glee Clubs, a Mixed Ensemble, and an excellent Mixed Chorus of at least 145 members throughout her years at IHS. In December of 1956 the Daily Mining Journal reported outstanding participation in her choirs: a 118-voice Girl's Glee Club, a 167-voice Mixed Chorus. She is especially proud of the number of boys who sang in her choirs. In addition to seasonal concerts she produced musicals. Her 1967 production of Oliver included a pit orchestra and won acclaim in The Mining Journal as one of the finest productions in the Upper Peninsula.
She gave time to her students beyond what was necessary for music preparation and presentation. She helped students develop pride and self esteem and promoted a positive outlook while demanding discipline and perfection, and requiring the memorization of difficult music. Though this, she won students' love and respect. It was a source of pride to be in one of Miss Freethy's choruses. In teaching the fundamentals of music, she also taught the fundamentals of a productive and satisfying life: hard work, discipline, commitment, team work, and fun. Students learned from her how self-discipline can lead to genuine fun, excellence and achievement.
In 1970 Miss Freethy retired, but in 1984 was asked to direct the Centennial Chorus for Ishpeming High School's all-school centennial celebration. She led the chorus - still demanding, still inspiring - revitalizing the above mentioned lifelong skills. A nominator said of the Centennial Chorus, "It was magical again!"
Other nominators said that, "this exceptional teacher and motivator found in us far more than we knew existed," ... " [she] affirmed and enriched [us]" ... "[she] strongly influenced my career path into teaching music" ... " I'm always mindful of her high performance standards." One summarized, "she's simply dazzling."
On her 90th birthday she was honored by Ishpeming High School and its alumni association.
Professor Hill was born in Baraga, Michigan in 1912. He studied under Martti Nisonen at Suomi College (1933) in Hancock, earned both his Bachelor (1937) and Master (1942) of Music degrees at the University of Michigan, did graduate work at Wayne State University, attended Michigan State Normal in Ypsilanti and the Cleveland Music School Settlement. Following the death of Martti Nisonen, Mr. Hill accepted an appointment at Suomi College (1946) and was the choral director there for twenty-one years. He also directed musicals, wrote choral arrangements and translations of Finnish works, was a church organist, taught private lessons, and later in life added piano tuning to his list of services to Copper Country music. In 1967 he resigned from Suomi and took a non-music teaching position with the Hancock school system. His creative talent turned to painting. After some years of failing health, he died in 1990 at the age of 78.
The music of Finland was Professor Hill's special love, and his work introduced it to a broader American public. His ability to inspire musicianship was stunning. He could transform marginal interest into passion by inspiring and stretching a student's sense of his or her capability. A testament to this ability was the superb choir he maintained under the restriction that Suomi College was a junior college and seminary of under 100 students. While the three-year seminary program provided a degree of stability within the choir, its membership changed dramatically every year. Professor Hill maintained the Suomi College Choir at a level of excellence thought impossible under such circumstances. His dynamic leadership and Suomi's support of a vigorous touring program gained Suomi international attention, and elevated choral standards in the Upper Peninsula. The choir toured annually, visiting Finnish communities throughout the United States and Canada. The 1952 tour culminated in New York where the choir was recorded for Voice of America radio broadcasts to Finland. The ultimate was a 1963 tour to five countries in Europe, including Finland, where the Suomi choir was one of two American choirs invited to perform at the Lutheran World Federation Fourth World Assembly in Helsinki.
Professor Hill, did not compromise excellence. His demands, though heavy at times, were soothed by generous praise. During concerts he would enthusiastically single out an individual or section of the choir who he felt had performed exceptionally well. Professor Hill's practice of selecting a student to conduct a piece in concert or perform a solo seemed frightening at the time, but is remembered as a formative experience by those who have pursued musical careers.
Professor Hill's musical legacy is great. Many family members and former students have become professional or avocational musicians, providing leadership across the U.P. and elsewhere as teachers, school choral directors, instrumentalists, instrument builders, church choir directors, singers, and catalysts in their communities' musical life.