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After 40 Years, TAHS Music Teacher To Take Her Final Bow

Beloved chorus and music teacher Laura Harris will retire at the conclusion of the 2023-24 school year
Harris+%28second+from+left+in+the+first+row%29+with+the+cast+of+Grease%2C+the+final+musical+production+of+her+40+year+career+%28photo+courtesy+of+Laura+Harris%29.
Harris (second from left in the first row) with the cast of Grease, the final musical production of her 40 year career (photo courtesy of Laura Harris).

No well-performed concert or musical theatre production should conclude without a warm round of applause to show the audience’s sincere appreciation.

The same goes for a special Tyrone Area School District teacher deserving of a long ovation for her career of dedication, service, and accomplishment.

After 40 years of service to the Tyrone Area School District, music and chorus teacher Laura Harris will close the curtain on an extremely distinguished teaching career at the end of this school year.

Harris has impacted thousands of students over the years, including several current colleagues and administrators at TASD.

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If you know Mrs. Harris at all, you know her by the love in her heart. She is as genuine a person as they come. Her love and passion for music is only matched by the love she has and shows to her students and peers

— Jonathan Holmes

Tyrone concert sound technician Bill Hartsock is one of many who got to know Harris as both a student and a colleague.

“One of the most cherished aspects of my time with Mrs. Harris has been the genuine connection we shared, stemming from our earliest interactions when I would eagerly retrieve music folders from her van for class in Elementary School. Her kindness and respect toward me, even in those small moments, left a lasting impression that has guided our relationship ever since,” Hartsock said.

On the final dress rehearsal night of this year’s musical production of Grease, Hartsock shared a touching video with Harris and the cast. It featured dozens of Harris’s former and current students, sharing their appreciation for all Harris has done for them and the music program at TASD.

Another former student-turned-colleague featured in the video is Tyrone High School English teacher Jonathan Holmes.

Holmes is one of the thousands of students Harris mentored through their middle school years as a member of the middle school chorus and Vocal Attraction, POPS Extension, and Drama Club.

Holmes was the stage manager for Harris’ last production musical this spring and has probably spent more time with Harris over the past couple of years than anyone except her family.

“If you know Mrs. Harris at all, you know her by the love in her heart. She is as genuine a person as they come. Her love and passion for music is only matched by the love she has and shows to her students and peers.” Holmes said. “She has always been one of my biggest supporters. Even when I had doubts, or when I didn’t believe in myself, she always did. As a student, she encouraged me to take a chance, to take risks, and to try new things. Without her, I never would have found my way to music or discovered that artistic side of myself. She was one of the people who introduced me to our Drama Club and theatre. I’ve been involved with theatre and acting, one way or another, ever since.”

The admiration extends to former students and members of the current graduating class.

“Some of my favorite memories in high school were singing in her classroom and performing with friends,” said Tyrone Class of 2021 grad Nick Lewis. “Mrs. Harris is an excellent teacher and her passion for education has helped propel me to pursue teaching for my career.”

“I learned a new depth of music appreciation and she taught me all I know about music,” current senior Jay Isenberg said. “She pushed me to be the best vocalist I can be, and I appreciate her endlessly for it.”

Harris’s dedication is something that her students appreciate her for. She isn’t just a 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. teacher. She is often the first person in the building in the morning, and the last person to leave in the evening.

I learned a new depth of music appreciation and she taught me all I know about music. She pushed me to be the best vocalist I can be, and I appreciate her endlessly for it.

— Senior Jay Isenberg

In addition to teaching her normal class schedule of middle and high school students, she has guided her students through many competitions, concerts, community events, and musical theatre productions over the years.

She has been active with the PMEA Choral Festivals, helping students make District, Regional, and even State level competitions.

She has also encouraged her students to attend County Chorus Festivals, where they can express themselves through music without competition. With her help, many of those students have learned the joy of performance and the personal confidence it can bring, regardless of the student’s level of talent.

Her dedication to her students doesn’t go unnoticed. Many current students say that she has helped them both in and outside the classroom, giving advice, supplying useful information, and just being someone who will listen to what they have to say, even if it isn’t music-related.

When asked what she hopes her students will take away from their experience in the TASD music program, Harris was quick to point out that it isn’t just about their ability to sing.

“I hope that I’ve taught them to always believe in themselves and that it’s okay not to succeed on your first try, as long as you never stop trying until you’re satisfied with your accomplishments,” Harris said.

At PMEA Chorus festivals and County Chorus festivals, Tyrone has consistently had students near the top, and most say that they couldn’t have done it without Harris’s help.

“Mrs. Harris has a good way of getting students who may be nervous to gain confidence and push themselves through the auditions, and she even points out the smallest things that could change the whole song completely, and get the student to place higher chairs because of those fixes. Mrs. Harris has a great ear and sense for anything music,” chorus student Evan Chichester said.

Harris began her career at TASD in 1984 after graduating from IUP with a degree in music education.

She was very excited to get a position at Tyrone because it was one of the few schools looking for a music teacher at the time. She remembered having to go through two rounds of interviews and was offered the job just two weeks before the new school year was said to start.

Harris said that she “hit the ground hard that year. I accepted the job, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Since then she has taught thousands of students over her long career, including many second-generation students whose parents had Harris as their teacher.

While she has many fond memories of her students, one of the most special experiences of her career was the gift of teaching her daughter, who to no one’s surprise, was a very accomplished vocalist in high school.

“I have so many wonderful memories, but one of my favorites will always be sitting in the auditorium at the PMEA Regional Chorus festival as I heard them announce my daughter’s name as one of the sopranos who would be going to the State Chorus festival. I knew how hard she had worked to achieve that goal, and I was so proud of her,” Harris said.

Harris and her daughter Molly at the PMEA Regional Chorus Competition (photo courtesy of Laura Harris).

Harris has also mentored many teachers, including elementary and middle school music teacher Brittany Hall.

“Laura is a friend and mentor who has always supported and helped me when I need her.  She has been a strong presence in our Fine Arts program and our school community,” Hall said.

Harris’s daughter Molly also cherished the opportunity to learn from her mom.

“I feel incredibly lucky that I got to share all of my musical experiences with her when I was in middle and high school. She had impacted so many students at Tyrone, and she should be incredibly proud of her wonderful career,” said Molly.

Harris has also made a great impact on the Tyrone community as well. She would often take the POPS Extension group to community events like the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, to local hospitals and nursing homes to sing carols for patients and senior citizens, and to sing the national anthem at Altoona Curve’s baseball games.

Harris said that the key to success is to always have the right attitude.

“I’ve always prided myself on not focusing on the negative, so I’m simply going to say that I took those times in stride and then I moved on,” Harris said.

After 40 years of service, Harris will “move on” from this chapter of her life following the final graduation performance of the concert choir on May 31.

Her distinguished career of bringing music to the school and community is something for which she deserves the longest and loudest standing ovation in Tyrone history.

I have so many wonderful memories, but one of my favorites will always be sitting in the auditorium at the PMEA Regional Chorus festival as I heard them announce my daughter’s name as one of the sopranos who would be going to the State Chorus festival. I knew how hard she had worked to achieve that goal, and I was so proud of her

— Laura Harris

This story was originally published on Tyrone Eagle Eye News on May 21, 2024.