The Journey of 40 years...

THE GRADUATING CLASS OF 2020 (from my blog...)

June 1, 2020

Dear Loving Family, Esteemed Colleagues and Treasured Friends:

At noon today, June 1, 2020, I submitted a letter of resignation from the position of Choral Director at Ridge High School. While I would love to be able to have shared this information face-to-face with so many of you, I decided this might be the next best way to make the decision known.

Here is the letter I submitted:

I am writing to tender my (conditional) resignation from the position of Choral Director of Ridge High School effective December 31, 2020. I state conditional because I would like to step away from the High School Choral Director’s position effective June 30, 2020. From September to December, I would like to serve as a mentor/helper/professional assistant for Ridge High School. The late Fred Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” In this capacity, I would mentor my replacement as Choral Director at the high school, train a replacement to serve as the Finance Manager for Ridge Forensics, leverage my years of experience and love of Ridge by assisting and collaborating with the staff at-large in creating distance learning plans, and assist, if needed, with the transition of the new Building Principal. While I realize that this proposal is somewhat unorthodox, I do believe it best serves the district and supports our students through this already-tumultuous time. Should this not be feasible, I will step away on June 30, 2020.

In May of 1980, I was RIF’d from my first teaching assignment; a part-time vocal music position at New Providence High School. My supervisor, Dr. Stephen Kramer, lived in Basking Ridge and had a rising ninth-grader at William Annin Middle School (then housing grades 7, 8, and 9 due to the high school’s first of six renovations). Dr. Kramer was aware of Karen Schlegel’s impending retirement from Annin and, on my behalf, he called then-Principal Joan Tonnarelli about filling the position. The rest has become history.

When I began my tenure for Bernards Township in September 1980, I was hired by John Fanning (RIP) and Michael Pennella to build a Choral program for Ridge High School. Prior to my arrival, Choir was led by Priscilla Bruno (RIP) Orchestra Director and was comprised of 8 singers. To John and Michael, there was a great opportunity to be had by hiring a teacher at the Junior High School with the specific challenge of building a Choral program over 2-years and then moving that program to the high school.

I was given carte blanche at Annin. I could take kids from lunch, study hall and GYM! (How popular was I!) In October 1980, my first-ever William Annin performance was called Viva la Musica and was held as a fund-raising spaghetti dinner in the cafeteria. I showcased a choir of 60-70 with featured soloists. I was starting to create a name and reputation for myself.

Within those two years, I created CABARET and Solo Recitals and Winter and Spring Concerts. I had singers in the Somerset County Chorus during year one and was asked to conduct the same in year two. By the end of my second year, the renovation to Ridge was complete and 125 singers and I moved into Ridge High School. The Choral Program was established!

During my 40-year journey, I have had the privilege of conducting over a thousand remarkable singers. I worked on Spring Musicals. I represented Ridge as the conductor of the New Jersey All-State Mixed and Women’s Choirs, the Central Jersey Region II Mixed and Women’s Choirs and the All-Eastern Honors Women’s Choir. To-date, I am the sole Director to have conducted all four of those New Jersey choirs! I have conducted six times through Europe with American Music Abroad and I have conducted three International Honors Choirs in Switzerland. I have been honored as a Teacher of the Year at Ridge and was named Master Music Teacher by the NJMEA. I received the Somerset County Excellence in Arts Award and in 2018, I received the Bernards Township Individual Mayor’s Arts Award.

I am particularly proud that Ridge singers have been consistently accepted into the All-National and All-Eastern Honors Choirs, NJ All-State Choirs and Central Jersey Region II Choirs. Competitively, the RHS A Cappella Choir Honors has achieved Superior and Gold Ratings throughout the years. Students have gone on to careers as Music Educators (at present, there are 28 Music teachers in the workforce from the Ridge Choral program), they have landed successful careers in theater and one served as the soloist for the George W. Bush Inauguration representing the United States Army Chorus. Proud accomplishments indeed.

So today, I look ahead through an unprecedented pandemic where my very livelihood and entire career has shifted and needs to be reimagined. Distance learning has become the way of survival for educators around the globe. The possibility of resuming to life-as-it-was seems distant at best.

The distance learning journey for the performing arts will present enormous challenges and obstacles. It can culminate in creative, technically intricate performance projects resulting from personal rehearsals and individual recordings but these should not be mistaken for the in-person, human, raw, emotional, vibrant, brilliant and filled-with-moments-and-memories experience of live performances. The immediate benefit of performance ensemble classes in this new ZOOM environment has been seen in the critical maintenance of Social, Emotional Learning and connections with the kids who know, love and respect each other for their dedication to the arts, not in actual, collective performance. Music Theory, on the other hand, as a quantitative subject, has easily adapted to online learning. It is immediately transferable to the screen and benefits from a host of technical innovations. It has allowed for the simultaneous transfer of ideas and concepts at both the individual and group levels. A different “classroom” experience indeed.

My long-standing love, admiration and allegiance to Ridge High School runs deep and wide. Ridge permitted me to establish my career and reputation in the state of New Jersey as so many things; a leader and role model, a visionary, founder and creator, a writer and public speaker and so much more. Ridge was “there” for my every success and for my darkest hour when we lost our precious son Michael. The commitment runs deep.

I am grateful beyond any written word for the opportunity I was afforded 40 years ago to build a Choral Program for Ridge High School.

To each member of the Class of 2020, family and friends and to all those who have gone before you reading this right now, I wish you peace and happiness and all the luck and love in the world. It’s been quite a ride!

With Overflowing Love and Gratitude,

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Barbara Retzko, Choral Director


June 1, 2020


June 13, 2020

Resignation (def.) – an act of giving up a position.

Retiring (def.) – to leave one’s job and cease to work, typically upon reaching the normal age for leaving employment.

Having never done either prior to June 1, 2020 and in my defense and due to sheer ignorance on my part, please let me state, officially, for the record…

I have applied for Service Retirement from Ridge High School effective July 1, 2020.

My previous blog referenced resignation which would have been my desire if the offer to become a helper/mentor in the fall was accepted. As it was deemed unnecessary and once I, more clearly, understood the difference in “R” words, I was able to clarify the request for all parties concerned.

As I also previously stated in the last blog, reimagining and redefining are two things I am not interested in doing at this point in my Choral Conducting career. Ours is a wonderfully communicative field, ripe with feelings and emotions and memories built with every rehearsal interaction and every melody sung. It is neither distant nor can it be communicated effectively through a computer screen.

For years I’ve told my students that I would leave when I felt I had nothing left to give. On my own terms. In my own time. On the crest of a wave. This realization hit in Mid-May. All I wanted to do was rehearse and all I was able to do was try to create meaningful, grade-producing activities to keep those in my choirs engaged. Really difficult.

So in writing today, I hope to clarify the two terms with which I began this blog for anyone else who may think the terms interchangeable. They’re not. And I am not resigning from Ridge for another position. I am retiring as Choral Director of Ridge High School after a long and rewarding run.

To answer the all-too-often repeated question of “What are you going to do now?“, the short answer will be found in offering to fill the needs of friends, family and colleagues. Can I run an errand for you? Can I research a topic for a lesson you’d like to present? Can I create Sibelius rehearsal tracks for you to share with your singers? I brought home nearly four decades of teaching materials which may, or may not, be of use elsewhere. I’m a helper. I’m a mentor. I have created and organized my world of choral music in a way that may be beneficial to the next generation of teachers. Not everything will go out of date. Basic Music is Basic Music. I can’t see myself not helping, especially when I look ahead to what may be more of the same next Fall.

Eventually, Rick and I will travel. There is a list of places we’d like to see and explore. The scientists are indicating that that may not be for a while yet. I look at all of this and believe it is finite. It is not for the remainder of our lifetimes. And where I was once overwhelmed by the thought of needing to “have a plan”, I am reassured by the fact that life has thrown all kinds of situations my way, and I have always landed on my feet. I trust that this decision will produce the same results.

So for now, the “plan” is to catch up on reading, do some house cleaning and purging and watch some TV. That should take me, easily, to the end of the summer at which point we shall see what opportunities present themselves in real-time.

As always, thanks for reading!