By Kristen Hooton.
Someone once said that our school should be spending less money on Fine Arts and more on sports. One of their points was that we pay a “full-time” pianist. However, Mrs. Phelps is so much more than a full-time pianist. For example, three of her major roles are as the Head of the Arts Department, producer of many of Heritage’s plays and musicals, and a mother figure to many Heritage Choir students. Because of that mother-like influence, she is nicknamed “Mama Phelps”. But have you ever wondered how she learns so much music on the piano so fast? Or what being the Head of the Arts Department includes? In an interview, she answered those questions, and the following are her responses.
The Heritage Arts Department consists of Choir, Orchestra, Band, Drama, Stagecraft, Dance, Ballroom, Art, Digital Imaging, and Yearbook, and Mrs. Phelps is responsible for all of them. That is a lot of responsibility for one person and Mrs. Phelps handles it really well. The Arts teachers, like other teachers, have a lot on their plates. While they may not have a lot of papers to grade, they have other responsibilities that can be just as overwhelming such as finding music, choreographing dances, leading concerts and showcases, etc. Mrs. Phelps likes to be what she calls their “#1 Cheerleader”. This means that she is there to support the needs of every teacher. Sometimes this means collecting t-shirt forms, planning trips, organizing budgets, or communicating information from leadership meetings. She said, “I try to offer my services to do the mundane things so [the teachers] can focus on the students” and “every teacher needs to know that they have support.”
In addition to managing the Arts Department, each quarter Mrs. Phelps learns between twenty to twenty-five songs on the piano to play for all seven Heritage Choirs. But how does she manage to learn all that music so fast? She explained that just as the teachers inspire the students to do their best, the teachers inspire her as well, and so do the students. From the teacher’s inspiration, the student then wants to learn the music the best they can, and so does she. She also does it to help the students be the best that they can because a pianist is an important part of learning to sing, The students need the support so she just “goes with the flow” and does what she can to support them. As a Heritage Choir student myself, I appreciate this.
Being a place of learning, there is a lot of what Mrs. Phelps calls “magic-making” that takes place in the classroom and witnessing this is what Mrs. Phelps loves about her job. A teacher–the magician–takes students, teaches them how to perform better, and magic takes place, magic called beautiful music. It is amazing to see music go from being good to phenomenal, so amazing it is much like magic. Describing this, Mrs. Phelps said, “It’s a humbling experience to be able to be in their classrooms and witness the magic that takes place.”
In my opinion, she is part of the magic-making. She is a magician herself, or at least the magician’s lovely assistant without whom the magic would not be possible. Without Mama Phelps, I would be completely lost and would not be the choir student I am today. Sometimes, I have trouble hearing harmony parts or keeping rhythm, but when I listen to Mama Phelps on the piano, I am able to sing better than I could on my own. Not only is there the musical aspect of her influence, but her presence and character also inspire the students to become better. Helping the teachers by playing the piano, telling stories, and saying and doing funny things when the teacher isn’t looking, all make Mama Phelps the amazing women she is.
Next time you see Mrs. Phelps, tell her how much you appreciate her because her significant contribution to her school is underappreciated.