There I was belting out the lyrics to Do you Hear the People Sing? I could barely move as the risers felt like a can of packed sardines. I could feel my heartbeat through my ears. Sweat dripped down my white button up. The lights were blinding. I looked at Mr. Britton, his face gleaming with pride as he conducted his last number ever; his smile emitting pure joy. And I realized that in that moment, I was ever so happy.
I joined chorus from peer pressure. All of my best friends were a part of it. They had joined their freshman year and were eternally grateful that they did. I, however, didn’t see the value in losing my precious Directed Study Block (DSB) time.
To replace 41 minutes a day of homework with singing seemed silly to me at the time. I already fixed my music craving at after school rehearsals for the fall musical. I didn’t need any more.
Everyday at 10:08, all of my friends would head down to the chorus room while I stayed in class. “It’s not too late Katie! You have to join,” they would say.
I would shake my head and hold up my homework.
Well, two years later, I gave in. I now call chorus my favorite part of the day. What changed?
By the fall of my junior year, I grew tired of everyone always telling me how great it was. I thought What the heck? and decided to see for myself.
Once I did, there was no going back. The atmosphere was indescribable. From the first day I entered the chorus room, I was bathing in positive vibes.
Everyone was excited, thrilled even, to be there.
There was an energy brought to life by Mr. Britton, the director. When I arrived and introduced myself, he seemed so happy to have me, expressing how grateful he was that I joined.
I remember wondering how one person even made a difference. It was a giant group of people singing. One voice couldn’t possibly change the sound it made.
I was right in that very literal aspect of it all. What did change however, was the way I saw myself, the way I valued myself, and the way I valued others.
Mr. Britton has forever changed me.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to get to know him during his last year here and to perform in his last concert on Friday May, 11.
It was one of the better decisions I’ve made.
After the concert had passed, I got a chance to talk to him, asking about the impact of his career from his perspective and his plans after retirement.
Mr. Stuart Britton has been altering the lives of HHS students for 14 years.
The original program at HHS was not as built up as it is now, being much smaller and less popular. He told me that it had seen some pretty hard times, but that he came in with the purpose of building it up to become something great.
When discussing his initial position as a choral director in North Attleboro, Mr. Britton said, “it was just driving me nuts. I wanted to find a place with a program that wanted to grow.”
Not only did Mr. Britton successfully build the program in the literal aspects of gaining more members, making chorus count as a class, and creating subsets like Act Two, Harmonix, and TestosterTones, but he built a community and safe place for so many students, a place where they could grow as both people and musicians.
The students are Mr. Britton’s favorite part of his job. “While you work with them, you get to know them,” he said. “They appreciate everything you do and they grow. It’s so fun to see them turn into people.”
Not coincidentally, the students have a major voice in the chorus community. When picking music for a concert, “students have a lot to do with it,” Mr. Britton said. “Once graduation is over, we spend time looking over some options. I pull a lot of stuff that’s new publications. We decide if we want a theme. Based on what the students give me for feedback, I fill in.”
For his last spring concert, the chorus performed four songs, one being the twenty-two minute long Les Miserables medley in which many alumni from over the years also took part.
As far as how the concert went, Mr. Britton thought it was exceptional. “The students did a really good job. They were just loving it. If that’s where the students are, that’s exactly what makes it a good performance,” he stated.
Les Miserables was the last piece performed in the spring concert, and it was also the most emotional.
“Everything was just the perfect moment,” he said proudly.
However, Mr. B doesn’t plan on stopping after retirement. “I want to branch out and do a lot of music related projects I haven’t had time for over the years,” he explained. “I want to publish things I’ve written and work with school systems that are trying to grow.”
He also talked about working with student teachers to improve the overall quality of music education.
“The other big thing I want to do is travel. I haven’t done a lot of other traveling other than Orlando,” he laughed.
Mr. Britton will be missed by me along with his colleagues and students, but we know he has left quite the legacy behind.
Senior Amanda Willis, who has been a part of the chorus since her freshman year, will be heading to James Madison University to study musical theatre this fall.
She told me that she is going to take everything Mr. B has taught her over the years with her to college. Her experience with him influenced her to choose that major, and she will never forget the impact he has had on her life.
“He’s like my second dad,” she said. “And he’s taught me everything I know. You know he’s just a great man.”
The Orlando Trip which occurs every other year during April break, is an opportunity for students to travel to Walt Disney World and perform there. Many favorite memories in the music department are made on this trip.
After being fortunate enough to have gone on two Orlando trips with Mr. Britton, Willis has a strong connection with him. In fact one of her favorite memories with him occurred in Orlando.
“When we went to Disney junior year, and I couldn’t see one of the shows; he filmed it and put it on a flash drive for me,” she recalled. “His heart is just so kind.”
Mr. Sean Bilodeau, band director at HHS, also remembered some of his favorite memories with Mr. Britton being in Disney.
“Going to Disney with him (three times) are by far my favorite memories. We both have so much fun on the trips with our students,” he said.
He continued by saying that “the performances over the years whether they be concerts or musicals are the highlight of my year, and seeing him and his students give a great performance is a great experience to share. After six years, we can still laugh at ourselves.”
According to Mr. Bilodeau, the dynamic that the two have is one of a kind. “We very much have the ‘wise dad, rebel son’ dynamic,” he explained. “Above all he cares about me as a person and has been by my side through a lot of ups and downs as a constant strong presence.”
Without the influence Mr. Britton has provided him, Mr. Bilodeau doesn’t think he would be the same educator he is today.
“Mr. Britton has shown me how important the work we do is. The impact on people. He mentored and continues to mentor me as he would his own son,” he said.
And although the two will part when Mr. Britton retires, Mr. Bilodeau assured me that “the students will always have a home in the music wing.”
“I promised him I would carry on the important work of advocating for the importance of music education both in Holliston and in society in general,” he said.
And from my own experience, I know this statement will remain true.
As I look forward to my senior year and the many adventures I will embark on, I will never forget that piece of my heart that Mr. Britton has touched.
His kindness and passion for what he does transformed me into a more well rounded person with sides to me that I didn’t even know I had.
“I hope that the students that I’ve had have learned two things,” Mr. Britton said. “First and foremost, to love the arts and try to make it a part of their lives. Second, to try to be the best people that they can be.”
I like to believe he has done just that.
video by HCAT