School concert will honor Columbia teacher and musician of 30 years

Thursday, April 19, 2012 | 5:31 p.m. CDT; updated 7:50 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 19, 2012
Susan Altomari, accompanist and assistant director of the CPS 5th Grade Honors Choir, plays piano during the concert rehearsal for Smithton Middle School on Wednesday. Altomari founded the honors choir in 1987 and will be retiring this year after 30 years of teaching.

COLUMBIA — A music specialist within the Columbia Public School system is retiring after three decades of teaching.

The Columbia Public School's 5th Grade Honors Choir, founded by Susan Altomari and Mary Ming in 1987, will play a concert in Altomari's name Thursday. Altomari is retiring after 30 years of teaching a variety of music programs to elementary students.

Spring Concert

What: Columbia Public School's 5th Grade Honors Choir performs

Where: Smithton Stage at Smithton Middle School, 3600 W. Worley St.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

"I'm excited to be moving on to new things that I've been putting on hold for a while," Altomari said.

The concert is Altomari's final performance as accompanist and assistant director of the choir. In dedication to her, the honors choir commissioned composer Joshua Chism to write a special piece of music for the program.

"She is a master educator," Melissa Straw, a music specialist at Smithton Middle School, said. "She is a mentor and role model to all of us. Not only does she demonstrate a professional level of musicianship, she also demonstrates that in her teaching as well."

Altomari has also been a church organist, choir director, adjunct music instructor at Stephens College, clinician and workshop presenter for musical and educational organizations and a music specialist for K-5 at Lee Expressive Arts School.

Among her accomplishments, working with children has been the most satisfying. The best rewards come from the kids, especially in the choir, Altomari said.

"It's been a part of my teaching career that I've found very gratifying and rewarding," she said. "I've grown with them, and they've taught me an awful lot."

The choir has 87 fifth-graders from 19 Columbia elementary schools, forming the largest districtwide ensemble in Columbia.

"The program has grown every year and has appeared at the Missouri Music Educators Association Conference I believe three times," Straw said.

Altomari said she wanted to create an enrichment opportunity for students, as well as a preparatory ensemble for secondary choral singing. Students are picked based on a scoring guide on where they attend school. They try to include as many elementary schools as they can.

"Anyone, if they know Susan Altomari, then they know what an awesome person she is," Deborah Jacobs, coordinator of fine arts at Columbia Public Schools, said. "She's dedicated, has extraordinary expertise and always picks out appropriate music literature for children's voices."

"You can't replace people like that," she said.

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