A Few Words on Don Nultemeier

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things. But, vice versa – the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things. Doctor Who season 5 episode 10 “Vincent and the Doctor”

When I made the resolution to blog more, I did so with the intentions of blogging about books and school and other fairly inane things. I never anticipated the need to write a blog such as this, but it is the least I could do for a man who did so much for so many people.

My mother informed me when Don Nultemeier was admitted to the hospital four months ago. I was surprised and incredibly concerned, but it never once crossed my mind that he would not come out. I figured he would be out and fully recovered before it was time to start throwing his summertime pool parties. Every time she went to visit him I sent her along with my well-wishes, figuring I would get to see him at some point in the future. The news that he has passed away has left me extremely sad – a sadness that cannot be fully expressed on an online blog, and my heart aches for his family. He has left behind a massive community of people who loved him and will miss him dearly.

I transferred to Princess Anne High School about nine weeks into my ninth grade year. I wanted to get into the chorus program because my best friend was already there. Mr. Nultemeier did not grant me permission to transfer in once the school year was well underway. I was miffed; I did not think a high school chorus was a big enough deal to warrant the attention he seemed to think it needed.

Anyone who has been in one of Mr. Nultemeier’s choruses understands just how wrong my original thinking was. He wasn’t a ‘teacher’ as much as he was a powerful hurricane in teacher form. Immediately after chorus started up my sophomore year, we were off and running. A Don Nultemeier chorus was not your typical “stand up on some bleachers and sing a bit” chorus. It was a production. There was singing, dancing, acting, costumes appropriate for a professional theatre, incredible lighting and sound, special effects, and more. All you had to do was look around the chorus room – it was decorated with photos and trophies from his past triumphs. This was a man who played to win.

I thought regular chorus practices were tough, but they were nothing compared to preparing for the musical that he put on every year. Monday evenings were already accounted for with regular rehearsal, but the plays demanded eight-hour Saturdays and countless evenings. Mr. Nultemeier would not present a play that wasn’t perfect. I was in Princess Anne High School’s production of Grease. I cannot remember how many times Mr. Nultemeier would stop us a few bars in to whichever song we were working on. “No, no, stop! That SUCKED! Do it again!” So we did it again. And again. And on and on until we were exhausted and it was perfect. As frustrating as it could get, there was something amazing about pulling off a wonderful finale and hearing the audience begin to applaud uproariously as the curtains closed.

(I’m in there somewhere!)

It was during this time that I got my mother involved with the chorus. Mr. Nultemeier was in need of people who could sew, and I knew someone perfect for the job. I dragged my mom to a rehearsal one night (to be honest, it was most likely done in an attempt to gain some brownie points). She got on really well with Mr. Nultemeier’s wife Sharon, and the next thing I know one of my mom’s best friends is my teacher’s wife. It was really one of the best things that could have happened. My parents now have a whole circle of friends that came from Mr. Nultemeier, and they have been presented some amazing opportunities as a result.

It wasn’t just concerts and plays at the school, either. During my time in chorus I got to sing on a Caribbean cruise boat and visit the amazing New York City. My parents went on several of the trips after I left chorus. They’ve been to New York City multiple times, Orlando, and Las Vegas thanks to Mr. Nultemeier and his “go big or go home” attitude towards life.

I was only a member of chorus for two years, one of which was spent behind the scenes doing spotlighting. I was never going to be a star. Singing was enjoyable to me, but I did not have the passion or commitment to succeed in Don Nultemeier’s chorus. My singing was best kept to the shower and the car. I’m perfectly okay with that. Chorus was intense. It could get frustrating and maddening. There were times when I hated chorus. It was so much work. I didn’t care about being the next great musician; I just wanted to sing a bit. Even though I was not suited for the chorus, I still maintained a massive amount of respect for what he was doing. I continued to accompany my mother to chorus rehearsals as a helper my senior year of high school and through college until Mr. Nultemeier retired.

Nulte created and nurtured stars (and a few divas, but that is the nature of the business of course). He could spot talent from three miles off. He knew exactly what needed to be done to make a show perfect – even if it was as simple as moving someone a few feet to the left during a number. You could practically see the smoke from the gears turning in his head as he stared at the stage. You may have wondered what was going on in his head, but soon enough he’d begin shouting his new ideas to make everything better. And it was always better.

As time went on I began to know Mr. Nultemeier more as my parents’ friend than as my former chorus teacher. He was clearly a magician because he got my father, Mr. “Football, Fishing, Hunting, Art is for Girls,” into musical theatre. He had his dream pool installed in his backyard, and I have spent several enjoyable summer nights at a Nultemeier backyard party. He had this twinkle in his eye and a great belly laugh that could be heard all over when something amused him.

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(4th of July at the Nultemeiers’. See the sign in the background? Someone – a former student, I believe – hooked Mr. Nultemeier up with a 42nd and Broadway street sign. That thing made him so happy!)

The older I got, the more my fondness and respect grew for this man. He has inspired so many people. His death was announced this morning, and already dozens and dozens of people have expressed their sorrow on Facebook and beyond. People who have not seen him for two decades are reminiscing about being a part of a Nultemeier chorus. His name will be known to more people than I can even imagine. I bet former students will be telling their children and grandchildren years from now about Nulte. His legacy will live on.

I want to revisit the quote from the beginning of my blog. The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things. But, vice versa – the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things. It is from one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows. The episode is equal parts beautiful and tragic, and this quote sticks with me. Today has been full of bad things. We lost a great man today, but he did so many good things that we cannot forget them in our sadness. Throughout all of his years as a teacher, a family man, and a friend, he added so much to many peoples’ “pile of good things.”

So thank you, Mr. Nultemeier. Thank you for being a such a powerful teacher. Thank you for being a wonderful friend to my parents. And most of all, thank you for being absolutely and unapologetically you.

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