A former student sang and signed the praises of Norma Freeman during a tribute to the retired Saline Area Schools choir teacher at Saline High School Thursday evening.
William Martinez’s “Signing the Song” was the featured attraction at the tribute concert to Freeman, who taught at Saline Area Schools for 19 years after a 21-year education career in Colorado.
The performance celebrated song, teaching, inspiration and family.
Freeman was also honored by fellow educators like Rob Cindric and Rebecca Groeb, as well as Saline Assistant Superintendent Laatsch. Former students’ comments about Freeman’s influence were played through a slideshow. And finally, after a few brief words from Freeman, the Saline High School choir was joined by alumni as Freeman, accompanied by Dolly Collins, conducted the choir to end the evening.
Signing the Song shares the story of Martinez as a boy. With a mother who is deaf, Martinez grew up in a “silent home.” He had difficulty fitting in at his Colorado elementary school.
But one day in eighth grade, choir teacher Norma Freeman called him up to the piano to sing a scale. Martinez complied and Freeman complimented him. It opened a new world to Martinez.
Later, when Freeman learned of Martinez’s mother’s deafness, she encouraged him to sign and sign a song to her at the school concert.
Martinez signed and sang his way through his childhood stories. Along the way, he taught the audience how to sign a few key words, which he stitched together at the end. Martinez’s talents as a motivational speaker shone throughout the performance. His engaging style demanded the audience’s attention.
His story was poignant and emotional – and audience members were seen dabbing tears from their eyes on several occasions.
Perhaps the most powerful moment of his performance came during a rendition of Danny Boy. Halfway through the number he stopped signing and completed the song with signs – in total silence.
Martinez’s performance was an ode to his parents as much as Freeman – but the audience was there for Freeman.
Martinez challenged everyone in the audience to think of an inspiring teacher and reach out to them to let them know of the impact they had on their lives.
“Teachers generate so much positivity for their students. The teaching profession deserves the gratitude, the celebration. Teachers are incredible human beings and sometimes we forget because we don’t remind them,” Martinez said.
Freeman said she vividly remembered the day she called Martinez up to the piano to sing the scale.
“It was just like he said it happened,” she said.
She said she was proud of Martinez’s work – and added that she’s been proud of her students’ all her career.
Before the night was over, Freeman took to the stage to express her gratitude for a career as a choir teacher.
“Can you imagine going to work every day to sing?” Freeman said.
Freeman urged the audience to find time to sing.
“If you want to understand a different culture, sing a song, preferably in their language. If you want to understand what was important to people 100 years ago, sing their song,” Freeman said.
Even better, she said, sing with other people. She cited research suggesting that choir singing as social, emotional and physical benefits.
“Choirs are an extraordinary way of maintaining social and emotional well-being and they deserve to be recognized as such,” Freeman said.
Freeman received a standing ovation from the audience after conducting the evening’s final performance.
Though retired from Saline Area Schools, Freeman still teaches children through a Community Education children’s opera. She also directs Voices Valiant, a University of Michigan choir for singers over the age of 50. They meet on Tuesday mornings and new singers are invited.