Clarkston’s Michael Peterson celebrates upcoming retirement with final choir concert

By Wendi Reardon Price
Staff Writer
— The community is invited to Michael Peterson’s final choir concert and retirement celebration at Clarkston High School on May 19 at 3 p.m.
Peterson retires at the end of this school year after teaching in Clarkston Community Schools for over 20 years.
“I am hoping to see a lot of past students,” said Peterson. “I am hoping we get to sing together at least a few songs together.”
He shared the first half of the concert consists of a large piece, which he does every year. This year’s piece is called “The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci” by Jocelyn Hagen.
“It’s an extended work on all the writings and readings of Leonardo DaVinci,” Peterson shared. “It includes a string quartet and a piano, harp and percussion. It takes about 30-35 minutes to sing. It also includes screen projections which will be shown at the same time while we singing. It’s a unique situation. They hired another company to come up with moving pictures, but it will be the writings and drawings of Leonardo DaVinci.”
He added he always looks for new pieces of music to introduce to the students.
“I always want to challenge them with new pieces,” Peterson said. “I just love his writings and his readings of Leonardo DaVinci and the composer. The composer writes some wonderful music. It’s always for me to try to stretch the students a little bit to try to get them to do things that aren’t normally something they would probably do.”
The second half of the includes Peterson singing favorite pieces with students and alumni.
“There are some pieces that I’m drawn to,” he said. “I have done them a couple different times over the years.”
Peterson not only taught for 21 years with Clarkston Community Schools, but attended CCS, graduating from Clarkston High School in 1986.
“I was both in band and choir all the way through,” he said.
Peterson went on to study at Central Michigan University. He had the opportunity to student teach at Clarkston under his predecessor Grayce Warren, in the fall of 1991.
“I had a chance to student teach with my teacher who taught me that was special,” he said, adding teaching for him is the same as it was for Warren. “The students for her were her kids – that’s how you respect them and treat them. They respected Grayce. They respected she put her heart and soul into it and spent every minute she could working with students. It helped me see the importance of being able to engage with the students and them have a love for what they do.”
He began student teaching in 1993, the same year he married his wife, Kate.
He taught in the town of Reese, Michigan for three years, which included teaching elementary, general music at Todd Middle School, middle school band, high school choir and band, and middle school band.
“I started doing musicals there,” he said. “It was fun. They had never had musicals done so I said you know what let’s start doing musicals. I did two musicals while I was there.”
The next chapter in his journey came when he received a phone call from his former university professor looking for somebody to be a teaching assistant at CMU. Mike, Kate and their young daughter, Grace, moved back to Mount Pleasant and he went back to school full time.
During his second year of going for his master’s degree, Warren decided to retire as Clarkston director.
“She called me personally and said ‘I am retiring. I would like you to know in case you wanted to apply for the job to please do.’ And I did,” he said.
Mike started teaching in Clarkston in 1997 and taught for ten years mostly at the high school. The last couple of years he taught seventh graders at Sashabaw Middle School in seventh grade as well as high school.
He tried a new adventure and taught choir at Walled Lake Northern in 2007.
“We did six musicals while I was there,” he said, adding he been teaching at Interlochen during the summer – junior choir and intermediate choir. “In the middle of the summer of 2014, I got a phone call – would you like to apply for to Clarkston again.”
“Which is funny,” Kate said, “because he was very different in Clarkston. He would say I think my heart is still in Clarkston. He missed his colleagues. We talked about it. It came back out of the blue. I said maybe if you just call them. Then, it just worked out that way. It was really cool.”
Mike came back to CCS in 2014 and first was teaching junior high and high school choirs. Then, in the third year in he was asked to teach seventh grade.
“So teaching seventh grade, eighth grade, junior high and high school choirs right now,” he said.
“I have always said to be a music teacher is the best job in the world at a school because the kids who are there want to be there,” he added. “They want to sing. They take my class because they enjoy singing, or they enjoy being with their friends who are singing. To have that special group of students who come in are eager to learn, eager to sing, are here to make music and perform is pretty special. I tell all the kids I am a teacher and I teach you through music. Foremost, I am a teacher, an educator. It’s probably the most special thing to get them to have a joy and love for something for little pieces they never heard of and to expand their horizons on music that’s out there.”
“What’s so unique about his job, which is the best job in the world I think, is you are with these kids more than just the hours in the school day,” Kate shared. “The way he interacts with them there are things they discover about themselves that he has shown them and abilities to do some of the choral pieces he has chosen and have them realize they can actually do that is really neat. There is a connection that happens. It’s different between the music directors and the kids and it’s so fun to watch all these years.”
Mike shared after 30-plus years teaching it was time to retire.
“It’s a moment in my life right now where I feel like I am ready to do something else, hopefully in music still and working with students,” he said. “It’s time for somebody young and fresh to put their twist on Clarkston Schools.”
As he finishes his last year, memories sticking out are watching and seeing the students perform.
“It’s usually been the performances,” Mike added. “The pieces we have sung. The challenges we have met. On top of being choral director, I have also done the musicals at the school. Starting fresh with a new show and seeing the students thrive, excel, learn and then put a show on every single day. The 8-10 weeks they worked on a show to make it their own. The same with choral concerts, the start to finish with every piece and hear the finished product. Hearing the students say I love that piece of music.”
He added he will also remember the trips.
“I also enjoy traveling with my students. Just taking them out of school to either another performance venues, they get a chance to see other more,” Mike shared. “I have taken them to New York City. We sung at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, St. John’s Cathedral, just different places in New York. We sang in Chicago. We have done Disney World a bunch of times. The best part is the kids get to perform somewhere other than Clarkston High School and they get to see and experience new places.”
Mike has a few opportunities of what he does next after retiring from teaching and one of them is a tour director.
“I have traveled quite a bit with my students,” he said. “There is a company I have used for 20-plus years – Educational Tours, Inc. They are the first company I call to put our trips together. They do a great job. For the past couple of years they have been asking me what my plans are to retire so they could hire me.”
He added there are other travel companies he has reached out to but his role would be the same. He would meet with choirs, bands and orchestras in different cities and be their liaison for the duration of the trip.
“I would make sure they are in the right place at the right time. Follow their schedule. Make sure they get to their destinations,” he said.
Mike will also continue singing. He currently sings with a few different groups including the Detroit Concert Choir, Beyond Choral Arts from Eastern Michigan University and Choral Arts of Michigan out of Lake Orion.
“I am still singing and performing as much as I can,” he shared.
Peterson’s final choir concert is free with a reception following.
“Come out and show support,” said Kate. “Come and see what he has done – it’s the best.”

Mike Peterson’s final choir concert and retirement celebration is Sunday, May 19. Photo: Provided

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