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The final chords: Amherst sends off choral director Dave Ranen in style

  • David Ranen, front left, who has been the Amherst Regional Middle School choral director for 38 years, shares a laugh with his longtime accompanist, Bill Sbrega, while conducting the final concert of his career, Wednesday, at the school. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • David Ranen conducts the seventh- and eighth-grade combined chorus in the final concert of his career, Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • David Ranen, front center, who has been the Amherst Regional Middle School choral director for 38 years, conducts the seventh and eighth grade combined chorus in the final concert of his career, Wednesday, June 6, 2018 at the school. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • David Ranen, front right, who has been the Amherst Regional Middle School choral director for 38 years, conducts the seventh- and eighth-grade combined chorus in the final concert of his career, Wednesday, at the school. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • David Ranen, right, who has been the Amherst Regional Middle School choral director for 38 years, receives flowers from eighth-grade students Brynn Sullivan, left, and Ava Lashway while conducting the final concert of his career, Wednesday, at the school. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • David Ranen, front center, who has been the Amherst Regional Middle School choral director for 38 years, is applauded by his students, alumnae, and the audience after conducting the seventh and eighth grade combined chorus in the final concert of his career, Wednesday, June 6, 2018 at the school. Alumnae, top, were called to the stage to sing in the final song of the program, "We Are the World". —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@mjtidwell781
Thursday, June 07, 2018

AMHERST — “Beloved” Amherst Regional Middle School choral director David Ranen conducted his final concert with the school choruses on Wednesday after 38 years of corralling squirming seventh- and eighth-graders into harmony.

Before a jampacked auditorium, where audience members filled the seats, folding chairs, back risers and aisles, Ranen led 165 middle schoolers in a final farewell show before his retirement. He was praised as “an Amherst treasure” by the gathered crowd.

“We had to do this concert on Mr. Ranen’s terms,” said John Bechtold, head of the Performing Arts Department. “His terms were simple: ‘I want to have a concert.’”

Principal Patty Bode said that many people in the audience were alumni of the junior high choruses who had come back to send Ranen off. She said not a lot of people might know that Ranen is trained and licensed as a guidance counselor and that he has brought a “guidance counselor’s touch to his work.”

There was even a member of the Amherst Regional High School Class of 1993 who returned to thank Ranen for inspiring her to go on to a singing career.

“He has had a hand in many people’s futures,” Bode said.

To send Ranen off, Bode read a poem by James Weldon Johnson, author of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the African-American National Anthem. She said the poem, “The Gift to Sing” suited the moment because Ranen had often used song to teach students about racial literacy and multicultural education.

“No nights are dark, no days are long; While in my heart there swells a song; And I can sing,” the poem ended, and Ranen turned to his singers to start things off with the classic “Build Me Up Buttercup.”

Before the next song, Ranen held up the sheet music to students from side to side to get everyone on the same page, signaled Bill Sbrega, his longtime accompanist, and the choruses filled the auditorium with “The Battle of Jericho.”

With vim and vigor, Ranen conducted, lips mouthing, arms gesturing and head turning to and fro facing each student in the four rows before him. Then, teachers and faculty joined the crowded risers and sang “Gloria, Gloria.”

Finally, Ranen asked all former alumni to join in singing and nearly half the room stood up for the ending song “We are the World,” followed by a standing ovation.

Ranen took a moment to give flowers and cards to special people he worked with during his career, including his wife, Karen, and two daughters.

Geoff Friedman, math teacher at Amherst Regional High School, said that Ranen has made “immeasurable contributions to the lives of literally thousands of middle schoolers over the past 38 years.”

“It’s something you can’t really imagine,” Bechtold said of Ranen’s retirement. “You really need a lot of imagination to not see him here.”

Sbrega, his accompanist, said Ranen will be a tough act to follow.

“I’ve been working every day in the same room with him for 17 years and what can I say, I love the guy,” Sbrega said. “I didn’t expect to bawl like a baby tonight, but they broke the mould when they made Dave Ranen.”

At a reception after the performance, friends and fellow educators took turns paying homage to Ranen’s respect and devotion to the arts, his ability to bring people together to form not just singing ensembles but a key part of the community and “the Ranen look” that he would employ to keep order in the back rows.

“I came into this building at age 22 and I’m leaving at age 27,” Ranen joked. “In that time, I learned how amazing 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds are and that the thing they want most is to be listened to and respected.”

A program handed out at the reception contained photographs and felicitations from students and colleagues, as well as the Springfield Thunderbirds Hockey Team and the president of the American Choral Directors Association.

Two years ago, Ranen was named co-assistant principal along with Alicia Lopez. Lopez said the past two years working with Ranen have been the best of her career.

“I will miss you. And I will miss your shorts and your flip flops and making fun of both of those things,” she said to laughter from the gathered crowd.

The crowd sang Ranen into retirement with renditions of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” with lyrics adjusted to end “When he retires, it’s our loss; For it’s thirty, eight, years of pure joy; At our dear dear ARMS.”

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.