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FRIDAY, MARCH 16, 2007

Wanda Thompson, choral director at Hartselle High School, recently received the Frances P. Moss Choral Directors Award at All-State. The Moss award is the highest bestowed by the Alabama Vocal Association.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Wanda Thompson, choral director at Hartselle High School, recently received the Frances P. Moss Choral Directors Award at All-State. The Moss award is the highest bestowed by the Alabama Vocal Association.

Teacher has something to sing about
Alabama Vocal Association honors Hartselle's Thompson for devotion to music, students

By Deangelo McDaniel 340-2469

HARTSELLE — You may know a lot of things about Hartselle High music teacher Wanda Thompson.

But, unless you've been one of her students, you really don't know the woman, her students say. There is a clear line, they argue, that separates her classroom from the others.

"When I was preparing for all-state band, nothing was going right," freshman Taylor Bean said. "I cried just about every day. Mrs. Thompson talked to me. She made me feel better."

For 36 years, that's the way it has been in her classroom. She teaches with a purpose and with compassion. Along the way, she's turned out some of the state's best musicians.

The Alabama Vocal Association recognized Thompson's contributions to music last month by awarding her the Frances P. Moss Choral Directors Award. It's the highest award the organization gives.

For seven years, the association has given the award annually in honor of Moss, an internationally recognized choir teacher who worked at Calhoun Community College and resides in Decatur.

Encouraging music

Although the walls in Thompson's classroom hold plaques and articles recognizing her program for performances in Austria, Italy and New York, this award is most special because Moss encouraged Thompson to study choral music.

"I went to Calhoun as a piano major," Thompson recalled. "She convinced me to go into choral music, and it's one of the best decisions I've made in my life."

With 14 of her students at all-state band competition in Birmingham, Thompson had no clue the award was coming.

"The speaker got to talking about a choir, and he said you could tell the kids looked forward to what they were doing and really cared," Thompson said.

"Then he called my name. I was shocked. I didn't know anything about this. I don't think anybody in Hartselle knew about this."

Lauren Jones, a freshman, was sitting near Thompson when her name was called.

"She was crying, and she was surprised," Jones said. "I think we were all surprised, but there is no better person who deserves the award."

Added Bean: "She got this because she cares so much. She cares more than any teacher I have had."

Connie Speegle is Thompson's piano player and a former student. She wasn't in Birmingham, but she's not surprised that Thompson won the award.

"When I was in the sixth grade I played the piano, but I was so shy," Speegle said. "She encouraged me to play, and if not for that, I don't know if I ever would have played in public. She's a saint in my eyes."

Born the oldest of two children to Leon and Nell Dawson, Thompson said she knew when she was a girl that she would do something with music. "It's been a passion for a long time," she said.

Thompson graduated from Calhoun and in 1970 earned a music education degree from The University of Alabama. She accepted a job with the Morgan County school system, and in 1978, earned a master's degree in music education from The University of North Alabama.

Between Alabama and UNA, she met future Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson. She was the choir director at First United Methodist Church and he was the soundman. They married and had two children.

Judge Thompson missed the all-state competition for the first time this year because the Thompsons didn't have a child involved.

"He's been my rock through the years, and I know he hated to miss it," she said.

In 36 years, Thompson has built enough memories to write two books and thought about retiring last year. Then she visited the junior high where Bean and Jones were students.

"All of the kids were wonderful," she said. "I couldn't quit. I'm taking this one year at a time. As long as I'm having fun and they'll keep me around, I'm going to teach."

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