LIVE OAK, Fla. — Tuesday night’s spring concert at Suwannee Primary School was the one Dr. Dan Crews had been looking for.
Not that the performance itself was much different than the others across Crews’ 44 years as a music specialist with the SPS first and second graders singing a variety of tunes.
But as the final concert — the coda — of Crews’ career, it was special.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Crews said following Tuesday’s concert, the second of the two-day spring performances. “There is a sense of final relief. It was a concert I’ve been looking for for 44 years. But I’m going to miss this. I’m going to miss the children. I’m going to miss the parents. I’m going to miss the teachers and I’m just going to miss making music with people.”
He has done plenty of that with the assistance of music assistant LaDonna Baker during the 28 years he has been with the Suwannee County Schools, at SPS or Suwannee Elementary East, as it was called at the time.
Baker, who has served as a music assistant for 32 years, is also retiring at the end of this year.
“They have meant a lot to our school,” SPS Principal Marsha Tedder said. “The next person will have big shoes to fill.
“Big shoes to fill indeed.”
In fact Ted Roush, the Superintendent of the Suwannee County Schools, said in some ways it will seem like part of SPS will now be missing.
“They had such a long tenure at Suwannee Primary School, it’s like I told Dr. Crews, they became part of the institution,” Roush said. “They provided that first exposure to music for so many children, many of whom went on to be involved with the middle school and high school bands and music programs.
“They provided the basis for people to have a life-long involvement with music.”
And while Crews has been the face of that exposure, up on the stage leading the students through the concerts, he said Baker was instrumental in the program as well.
“We couldn’t have the music program we have without LaDonna, that’s for sure,” Crews said after Baker, who is more comfortable at the piano and out of the spotlight, declined comment. “It wouldn’t be the quality of music program without her, that’s for sure.”
That quality program also wasn’t possible without support along the way, according to Crews. He has made sure to thank the administration for their support at the countless concerts over the years, and that didn’t change at the finale Tuesday.
“We’ve been here awhile, LaDonna and I, and we’ve always managed to teach music through it all,” he said. “The district has been so good about keeping music in the district. Where so many districts lose their music programs, they have kept us here for years.”
That is a fact Roush was proud of as well.
“Obviously over the years and through many different administrations, there have been ups and downs in the budgeting process,” he said. “But there was always an effort here, before me, to keep that as part of our curriculum.
“I’m proud to be a part of a district where the belief has been that our students should be exposed to the arts as part of the curriculum.”
That exposure, though, will now begin with someone new.
And after nearly half a century of being a part of that, including teaching approximately 30,000 students in his run with Baker at SPS, Crews said he is looking forward to a change.
“The plans right now are to decompress for a year,” he said. “I’ve been Dr. Crews, the music teacher, for 44 years.
“I want to see what it’s like just to be plain Dan Crews.”