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Take 5 with Harry Mitchell

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Basic bio

New Castle native

Henry Central High School graduate.

 Music B.A. and teacher certification for language arts at Georgetown University

Language arts and social studies teacher for two years in Georgetown City System at junior high and high school level. Language arts and later music teacher at Henry County High School for 33 years. Substituted for 10 years after retirement.

Played organ at the Shelby County Horse show for 15 years.

You did the first musical at Henry County High School, tell me about the productions.

We started with Li’l Abner and did 12 Broadway plays at HCHS. A teacher who was the assistant football coach, Gary Jones, was interested in doing a musical. He said if we could team up and he would do the drama and I would do the music. Of course, no one thought that combination would ever work — a music teacher and an assistant football coach. We did about 12 plays.

We had an awful lot of really talented people that helped us too. There were people around the county that painted the sets and didn’t charge us anything for them. I mean, we had some really painted sets. Some the prettiest ones I remember were Oklahoma and Hello Dolly.

Buck Roberts was the custodian out there and I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did without him. He was my sideman. He was a tremendous help. He was there for everything I did with every concert and production as long as I taught.

The acoustics were terrible in the gymnasium.

We had makeshift lighting. They took down some of the old lights that lit the stage (in the gymnasium) and put them on poles. We didn’t have dimmers. That was about it. There wasn’t any technical lighting at all like what they have now.

I thought that if we could get some of football players in our plays we would have it made and we did.

One of the best feelings I get when I go (to the high school productions) is that this tradition is being carried on. The board of education and superintendent have not said — you know the arts have always been treated like stepchildren and if anything is ever going to be cut from a program why it usually starts with the arts — and I don’t believe that’s happening here.

Students gain a lot of friendships (from participating in the productions) and they can gain poise through being out in front of the public. I have had kids say they were so timid that they couldn’t get in front of a class until I had to go onstage. Now they can be public speakers. I think it helps with that. Kids with responsible jobs can get up in front of the public. We strove for anyone that wanted to be in the production of the play could be —they might not have the lead — but everyone had a job. Sometimes we had over 100 people working in a production.

Coming to Henry County was the best decision I ever made. It gave me the opportunity to do things we didn’t have here. We didn’t have an audition choir like the Alpha Choir or any musical productions.

What was your role as a music teacher then?

I had several choral classes. We formed the Alpha Choir which was an audition choir made up of about 50 students. I enjoyed that thoroughly. We did a Christmas Concert. We would start around Thanksgiving and do performances at about three different churches with a spring concert. I did The Messiah for years and I don’t even think that would be allowed now.

What led to your interest and career in music?

I’ve loved music ever since I can remember. Some of my family were musical and I was always around music. We had a lot of music in the home. I played the Glockenspiel in the high school band and rotated between that and other percussion instruments in college. I started taking piano lessons in the second grade. It was so strange. They would let me out of my elementary classes so I could take my piano lessons. My teacher was Ms. Garvey.

I played at horse shows in Oldham County and 15 years at the Shelby County horseshow — that is how I met my wife. I played strictly organ and you get the rhythm going with the gait of the horse during the showing.

My wife Mary and I both have played music in the New Castle United Methodist Church for more than 30 years.

I always had encouragement for music. Music has been my life and provided a busy life. Until I retired, I had very little leisure time.

Do you have any favorite composers or musical pieces?

I really like Gershwin and Handel. I like Bach and Beethoven. I like them all when it really comes down to it. I kind of favor more on the Romanticism Era. It’s a little more melodious I think. You can follow the melody line a little closer in it.

I like some popular music — music that was popular at one time not the popular music today. I do like Kenny G. I do like Broadway music.

Do you have a funny story during your time teaching and putting on productions?

This one goes back to a student: a parent one time told me that she (her daughter) is a very talented girl, but she doesn’t want to do that in public. Her mother told me, ‘Now she’s got a lot of talent and she’s really a good singer, but she’s not going to do it in public.’ I thought it was so funny that she said that. I had to respond, ‘Well, we are not going to come and make house calls for her to perform.’ She ended up performing beautifully.

I think if you are teacher and if you don’t have fun with your kids you have lost something along the way.