GOSHEN — Sold-out shows across the globe. Late-night TV performances. A devoted audience eager to snap up fresh offerings or a re-pressed early album. Each achievement a hook for Goshen native Tim Showalter to hang his seemingly oft-near, wide-brimmed hat on.
Of the thousands of students to have worked with retired Goshen High School choir director Marcia Yost, Showalter’s name is the first recommended for further insight into the longtime educator’s career.
“Talk to Tim,” Yost said, standing inside the Goshen College Music Center lobby, where she now works as the school’s director of arts, in addition to teaching courses.
“To hear that means more to me than a perfect review in Rolling …,” Showalter trailed after hearing of the recommendation, stopping himself short of “Stone” as if to weigh — and stand by — the assertion.
The musical mind behind rock project Strand of Oaks is taking a break from tending his garden in mid-80-degree Austin, Texas.
An excitement hijacks Showalter’s voice as he reflects on Yost’s role in his musical makeup.
“Excellence,” he said when asked of his former teacher’s lingering lessons. “Excellence that takes an incredible teacher to know you can take a 15-year-old and do something excellent with them.”
In Yost’s 34 years as Goshen High School’s choral director, student-vocalists earned four state championships, nine runner-up titles and, for many, a compass point for how to move through their budding career paths.
“By the time my senior year came around, Ms. Yost was a part of 70 percent of my classes,” Showalter said. “I think I sang better in high school than I do now.”
Prior to her tenure at GHS and fresh out of college, Yost taught Fairfield elementary students for six years, typically employing her guitar and voice in the classroom, sometimes for six hours a day.
Then, it was the late ’70s. Yost’s first contract netted a paltry $8,000 salary.
Loggins and Messina; Judy Collins; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and Peter, Paul and Mary rotated on her turntable.
“Those were really good years,” she said of her time at Fairfield. “They were my first teaching years, and I learned a lot about what motivates people by working with children; I highly recommend that. They’re quite transparent. They’re quite ready to share with you how they feel about what you’re doing or what they want to do more of and what kinda trips their trigger. I found that a lot of what I learned there that helps people become passionate about music translates to all ages.
“I think good educators and good musicians have got keen senses of discernment. It’s almost something that goes beyond what you see and you hear. It’s kind of this sense of getting a feeling for a room. It’s a part of what it takes to be a performer that you take into the classroom: you read the room.”
‘RAISING THE BAR’
Born and raised in the Maple City, the Yost family presence in Goshen dates back four generations. Music “was really important” in the Yost household, she said. Though neither of her parents were performers, “(music) was always playing.”
“I’ll never forget the Christmas I got my guitar,” she recalled, noting her first instrument was piano. “Oh, it was a cheap, cheap guitar. It was a Decca, my first one. Soon after that, when I was in high school, I saved my money and bought my first Epiphone, and then in college, I began playing Ovations. And I have a Gibson Les Paul, too.”
Guitar would later lead to banjo and French horn, which she played in the GHS orchestra, band, pep band and, later, in college. Her voice was woven into choir, Crimsonaires and musicals, including “Camelot,” the first-ever musical to be performed at GHS, which she student-directed as a senior in 1972.
She’d go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in music education at the University of Indianapolis and a master of music degree from Western Michigan University.
“When I think about the core of Marcia as a music educator and teacher, it felt so strongly that her goal was for her students to experience musical excellence,” said former student Katie Miller O’Leary, now choral director at Goshen High School who oversees musicals, Crimsonaires, the auditorium and co-chairs the music department. She and Yost also co-direct local choir Notable Women.
“She kept raising the bar for students because she had this incredible faith that her students were capable of so much.”
Without prompt, it crops up again: “excellence.”
“That was a word that she frequently used in class and when she spoke about her groups at performances. She would thank the community that helped support that musical excellence,” Miller O’Leary said.
Yost is among the few Elkhart County music educators with a pedigree of such performance. She’s still involved in numerous ensembles, directing, consulting for competing choirs as a clinician and leading community music classes, among other endeavors.
Asked what she replaces the burn of state competition with in her administrative role at GC, she’s blunt.
“Not a thing. I don’t miss it,” she said of the competitive grind.
“… I have always had a hard time reconciling my educational philosophy to that sense we’re going to learn a 10- or 20-minute show, and that’s going to take up six months in some settings, or three months out of the year, to keep refining that same thing. What I love is creating music at a high level. … That’s not to mean I’m not a competitor — I am a competitor. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it well. But it also made me more nervous than anything else I ever did.
“When it came to competitions, the thing that was nerve-wracking about that is that, sooner or later, it all falls at the feet of the director. If there’s something the adjudicators didn’t like, if a tempo change wasn’t correct — there are just so many things that made me nervous because I didn’t want my students in the choir to take their dings because of me.
“The more you get along in the program, the more you understand that, OK, this is about making music, and if they don’t like our interpretation, that’s OK. They’re only three people.”
“… There’s just some things about (competition) that are really quite wearing. On the flipside, there are things that are incredibly satisfying about watching kids meet their potential and feel good about what they’re doing. … There’s nothing like it.”
During a hometown show a few years back, Showalter remembered seeking feedback post-concert from a single set of ears.
“That’s just respect,” he said, recalling talking to Yost following his set. “That’s my main thing. I was instantly in her class again. I was looking for approval not out of fear but out of complete respect.
“One-hundred percent, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for her.”
In the coming weeks, Yost will be prepping, along with other educators, for Goshen College’s “A Festival of Carols,” an annual performance Dec. 6-8, combining school choirs, instrumentalists, community members and varying clergy leaders in lessons and carols.
She’ll be back directing during her portion of the show, and likely looking inward as the final notes fade.
“I always want to make sure I put in the amount of effort,” she said, “so that after a rehearsal, and particularly after a performance, I can go home and look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I did everything I could.’ And that particularly stays with me as a director.”