September 17th…“WHO WAS THE BEST TEACHER YOU ENCOUNTERED AT BATTLE GROUND SCHOOL DISTRICT IN WASHINGTON STATE?”
A wise hunter will survey his arsenal of possibilities and then choose the correct caliber of firearm to guarantee success in his goal of bringing home a “trophy”. In the late 1940’s, the wise leadership of the Battle Ground School District also made a “guarantee of success” when they hired someone of a high caliber in an educator by the name of Mr. Orrell Peru. Even as a teenager, being naive to the overall scope of life, I was still drawn to the integrity and sincere life of this humble, yet confident man who taught choral music in our town’s High School for many, many decades. I can easily associate Mr. Peru with a quote from the British poet and philosopher, G.K. Chesterton who once said, “…..The real great man is the man who makes every other man feel great!”. THAT was the epitome our most beloved Concert Choir teacher!
The happy, humble heart of this man of music was filled with the passion to share his gleaning of choral knowledge with each generation of young people who gathered in the amphitheater of his classroom each day, year after year. Mr. Peru lived by a code of high morals that naturally commanded respect from those young voices under his directorship. Like a bee to honey, I could’ve easily signed up for a full six periods of Concert Choir each and every day.
At times, during difficult passages of teaching us music, our dear Mr. Peru would have everyone take a rest break from what seemed to be clashing notations of the various soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices. This gentle scholar would then begin telling us stories that existed “behind the music”. He’d share what timeline in history this particular song came from, what was happening politically in their culture at that time. Mr. Peru would even go into some scenarios that depicted war and the chilling anguish of what humankind was suffering and therefore what this composition was trying to communicate. Now, thanks to his sharing, we could begin to understand that the music contrasts were the composer’s way of communicating across the ages what the turmoil of that moment in his history was and how he used musical notes to “paint” the portrait of what life was like at that moment in his touch-point era.
One of the highlights of my two years with Mr. Peru in Concert Choir was when our choral department teamed up with the allies of the Art, Drama, Stage and the Symphonic Band departments to bring to life the wonderful Broadway musical extravaganza of the Lerner and Loewe musical called “Camelot”. Hard work and joy were key ingredients to the recipe of success as we gave our community a gala event of stepping back, musically, into the mythical realms of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Ever the one to have fun, when possible, I recall how, during a very hot Spring day of practicing, we were all melting and lethargic in the wraparound seating of the choir room. Our beloved instructor knew we had to get “sparked” back to paying attention to our music, so Mr. Peru began to tell us of the cool, refreshing times that he and his family enjoyed skiing on the snow-covered slopes of Mount Hood down in the State of Oregon. We could almost feel the cooling snow breezes when Mr. Peru quickly interjected how that skiing experience was the place he learned “NEVER SPIT INTO THE WIND!!!” ……..and to emphasize, he drew his own hand back, spread out his fingers and then let it slap back onto his face. We all howled with laughter as he took the cue, “Alright!!! Now that you’re all awake, LET’S SING!!” 😉
In 1995, when our treasured Choir Teacher left this world, I was working part-time for Layne’s Funeral Home there in Battle Ground, Washington. I both attended Mr. Peru’s memorial service (at Battle Ground Baptist Church) and, as a member of the funeral home staff, assisted in any way possible to honor this sweet man of my young High School days. Likely due to their deep mourning of the loss of their husband and father, the immediate family did not have a public committal service at the grave site, nor did they attend the committal. There were just four of us who carried my cherished teacher’s coffin to his grave. Before lowering his casket into the now parted soil, we each placed the carnations from our suit lapels upon the top of Mr. Peru’s casket as a final tribute to his touching our lives. With cascading tears flowing down my cheeks, I said these parting words……..”So ends the life of a GREAT man!!”……..and in response, the three men with me acknowledged with a gentle and loving, “AMEN!!” T’was a very meditative, musically-endued and moving moment for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.