Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 6:37 PM on Wednesday, May 23, 2012

HHS choral director Robinson retires

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Mark Robinson retires after 27 years with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

The Homer High School gym rocked with cheers and applause during Monday night's commencement ceremonies. Most of it was directed at students. Some was directed at speakers, guests and parents.

When Principal Allan Gee introduced the school's swing choir, however, he made a special note that "for 23 years, it has been under the direction of Mark Robinson." The thundering applause was the audience's way of saying "thank you" to Robinson, as he wraps up a 27-year teaching career with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District — four at Chapman School, followed by 23 at Homer High School — and begins retirement.

Born in Kentucky and raised in Indiana, Robinson came to Anchorage as a VISTA volunteer in 1980. While there, he met Nancy Lander, a social worker, who later became his wife. A year later, Robinson returned to the Lower 48, with Lander. Continuing their education, Robinson focused on law and social work; Lander pursued her degree in social work, as well. A year after that, Robinson changed his focus to music.

The law-to-music leap wasn't as big as it might sound. With a father that was a church organist and choir director, Robinson had grown up singing in choirs. A discussion with a mentor helped fine tune his goal to become a choral director.

"I came home one day and said to my wife, 'I think I actually want to be a music teacher,'" said Robinson, "She looked me cold in the eye, took a big deep breath, swallowed hard and said, 'Honey, whatever makes you happy is fine with me.'"

After graduating in 1985 with a music degree, Robinson was hired to teach at Chapman School and four years later continued his career at Homer High School. During the summers of 2000-2002, he continued his education at Ball State University, completing a master's degree in conducting.

In 27 years, Robinson has conducted voices young and old. He has been choral director for Homer High and Homer Middle schools. He has been artistic director of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra and Kenai Peninsula Community Chorus. In Homer, throughout Alaska, in the Lower 48 and abroad, his conducting has filled the air with music. Drawing from that time, three "life-changing experiences" stood out.

"First was singing on the first anniversary of 9-11," said Robinson of conducting Alaska's participation in an event called "The Rolling Requiem," a choral commemoration of all those who lost their lives and those who helped others on Sept. 11, 2001. As clocks struck 8:46 a.m., a year to the minute after the first attack on the World Trade Center, 205 choirs around the world performed Mozart's "Requiem" in one time zone after another.

"I still get chocked up thinking about it," said Robinson of the impact of high school students and adults singing together that morning to a standing-room-only audience in the high school gym. "That was a biggie."

A second highlight for Robinson was conducting the March 2006 performance of Homer High School students and accompanying adults performing Palestrina's "Adoramus te" in St. Peter's Basilica.

"He wrote that music for that building," said Robinson of Palestrina, the Vatican's choral master in the 1500s. "You sing the first phrase ... and it echoes for five, six, seven seconds. There's no way to describe what that's like."

Robinson's third highlight was from the 2010 visit to Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria by 52 members of the Homer High School choir, as well as members of the Kenai Peninsula Community Chorus.

"We sang three Hebrew pieces at Mauthausen Concentration Camp," said Robinson. "I wanted the kids to experience it and try to understand. It was overwhelming."

For these and other opportunities he has had, Robinson credits community support.

"You get an audacious idea, put it out there and people say, 'yeah," he said. Specifically, he gave nods of appreciation to Laura and Peter Norton, Julie Ann Smith, Lance and Barb Petersen, Jill Berryman, Lynn Roth, "all these incredible people and my wife for supporting all that. This is an amazing place to live in."

Robinson's plans for the future?

"I plan to spend the first couple of weeks of retirement cleaning my room. I've accumulated a lot of junk," he said laughing.

There are elderly relatives in the Lower 48 with which to spend time. There are travel possibilities. And there is music.

"As much as I love the classroom, and I do, it's time to do some other things with my life," said Robinson. "But I'm not done making music and I'm not done living in Homer. That has truly been the joy of my life."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.