Walton to tickle the ivories one last time

Retiring after 35 years
By Beth A. Birmingham | Jun 03, 2014
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Richard Walton plays a little ditty on the piano at Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston May 14. He is set to retire from his music position at the end of the school year.

Rockland — After 35 years teaching vocal music within the Rockland school district, Richard Walton will be taking his final curtain call following Oceanside East High School's commencement ceremony Tuesday, June 10.

Music has played a major role in Walton's life — starting at the tender age of 9. He ventured from playing the piano at church to entertaining patrons in Marcel's Restaurant at the Samoset Resort for 25 years.

"I had no intention of going into teaching," said Walton. He explained upon his graduation from Northwest Missouri State University with a degree in vocal music in May 1970, he was advised not to seek employment as his draft number (238) would be called up soon to head to Vietnam.

He and a friend decided to do some traveling and headed to Europe, visiting 13 countries in just two months. When he returned to the states in July he was told to find a job as his draft number was not going to be pulled — they drafted through 200.

Walton's musical teaching began in Iowa at a small school where he taught for five years before moving to the Bahamas. During his four-year tenure there, he met is wife Pam. She is also a teacher — second grade at Gilford Butler School in South Thomaston for 15 years.

During a venture through Maine on their way to St. John New Brunswick, where Pam is from, Walton said "coming through Maine during the summer is heaven on earth — I didn't want to go back to the Midwest, so I started to apply for jobs."

He discovered a position advertised for the School Administrative District 5 high school, and after a couple weeks Walton interviewed. Thrilled to be close to her family and yet in the United States where things are cheaper, Pam was comforted in the prospect.

Walton got the job to teach chorus and music theory at the high school and all the sixth grades throughout the district.

"For many years I also had a Show Choir which performed throughout the community — costumed dancers and singers — who were the pride of the high school and the envy of other schools," wrote Walton in his letter of resignation.

"The money they raised through performing paid for students' summer attendance at Show Choir camps in Boston, Chicago, Orlando and at Penn State," said Walton.

Walton explained the Show Choir won many awards and over the years, several students were chosen for "Up With People" programs. Those selected performed for a year across the country and in Europe.

"It was a rich and memorable experience that set them on a positive course for their future," said Walton.

He had proven what he could do ... as Walton had been posed the challenge. "Well, it will be interesting to see if you can establish a Show Choir here in Rockland, Maine" by Dr. Bob Adkins, then principal of Rockland District High School who had hired him.

"It put Rockland on the map," said Walton. It went into the early '90s before cutbacks and his position changed, and he had to let it go.

His relationships with his students were ongoing, and continue today.

"I am honored that so many keep in touch and recall their musical experience as the highlight of their high school careers," said Walton. "It was rewarding to witness the stages that teenagers go through in four years, and almost without exception, to emerge as mature and capable seniors," he went on.

Walton recently received a phone call during Teacher Appreciation Week. The past student said he just wanted to let him know how much Walton had influenced his life.

"I didn't go into it for this," said Walton.

Walton also said how much he enjoys the interaction with the Life Skills students. "It is just so rewarding to see how much joy music can bring to someone," said Walton.

The piano is his "thing," according to Walton, who has also given lessons on the side and played in other venues.

While Walton admits technology is not his thing, he said kids would come to his house and write music. "It's incredible what they can do nowadays," he said.

"I believe in the old-fashioned 'let's sing' — something they can carry throughout their lives. Kids could pick up on it easily," said Walton.

Seeing the excitement of kids singing and performing — "I get high on that," said Walton of his fondest memories.

Getting to know the kids and just communicating with them has been the most important thing in Walton's career.  "Awards don't matter, it's the life-long connections that do," he said.

Walton plans on relaxing as much as possible, but admits he will definitely have a "honey-do list." He does enjoy gardening, taking walks and wants to get back to biking. And he is looking very forward to getting back to the classics. "They have been on the shelf for a long time," he said.

"Thirty five years later here I am," said Walton.

Walton's resignation letter expressed his dismay in the decreased attention to the music program, he did compliment the district on maintaining the arts program.

"The vehicle for the expression of exceptional talent has become our drama program," said Walton.

"May this district, going forward, return to a positive course in support of our students — and may our young people be front and center in all decisions," he concluded.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Comments (7)
Posted by: Susan M. Mustapich | Jun 09, 2014 12:55

All the best wishes to you Mr. Walton. You will and should be missed. Not too long ago, you gave my first grader a solo in a school concert, when I didn't even know she could sing! By doing that, you gave her so much more. A couple of years later, you turned the school's spring concert into a Broadway review, and gave her and lots of other kids solos, and made many parents proud. Six years later, my daughter is a young musician, and performing this Tuesday at Rockland's Got Talent or Not at the Strand (ok, that's a plug). It was good to read an article about your life in music, and your many years in the school district. Despite the budget cuts and reorganizations, you kept the magic going in these recent years with the younger children, and will always be a part of our best memories. Enjoy your retirement.

Posted by: Angela Johnson | Jun 03, 2014 22:15

I feel fortunate that both of my children had the opportunity to have you in RDMS as their Choral Director! They both say "Hope you have a great retirement Mr. Walton, you deserve it!"  Remember that 70's song I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing? Well Sir Walton, I believe you have!  We will all miss your great sense of humor, beautiful piano playing and spirit. Thanks for all you have given to this community.

Posted by: Michael Montgomery | Jun 03, 2014 21:37

I was lucky enough to be in his Show Choir while in high school, and various other ensembles for him and for Marlene Hall.  Class acts, and very fun.  Few people had impacts on kids throughout the area schools as they did, for all those years.  Bravo!

Posted by: Helen Plourd | Jun 03, 2014 19:51

I always got on a high hearing you and the students make exemplary music!

Posted by: Robert Jean | Jun 03, 2014 18:29

Thanks for the memories, Dick! It has been a pleasure working with you for the past few years. Best wishes for a well-deserved retirement!

Posted by: Jill M Goodridge | Jun 03, 2014 08:55

Mr. Walton has been a very important spoke in the music wheel.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge & passion with so many over the years - not to mention your great sense of humour! You will be missed.

Posted by: Lorrie Callaway | Jun 03, 2014 06:25

Congratulations on your retirement, Dick! You will be missed!!!

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