Amity Music Teacher Chris Hickerson aka “Mr. Hick,” to some, loves Connecticut and he loves Amity High School.
But after 36 years of dedicated service to the school and countless students he’s decided that it’s time to say farewell.
Chris Hickerson was a fresh faced young man when he came to Amity as a student teacher in the second week of September, 1980, under the wings of Choir Teacher Jack Zito, and Band Teacher Lou Cohen.
In the Winter of 1980, young Hickerson was given the opportunity to direct a piece called the “Last Words Of David” at a school concert. His accompanist was a senior named Lina Lillios.
Zito left Amity in March of 1981, and Cohen left in September leaving the 23-year-old Hickerson to BE the Amity Music Department. In March 1981 he was hired full time. Warren Gohstler (1983-2000) was moved from the middle school to Amity High School and they worked together on the spring musical, “Once Upon A Mattress.”
Hickerson worked as band teacher and then passed over to the Choir in 2000.
He was involved in dozens of spring musicals at Amity under 5 different theater teachers/directors.
He laughs as he tells the story of “Greased Lightning” which in this case, was a golf cart.
“The kids were in the middle of the song, when the brake broke and the cart started moving,” he said. “We watched from the pit as it came closer and closer, but kept playing. Luckily it stopped when it hit the end of the stage.”
He recalls a young Andrea Drobish playing the lead in a musical and how great she was.
When the time came to hire someone new to run the theater department, he was first in line to push for his former students, Robert (and Andrea) Kennedy.
Under the Kennedys, Hickerson was the musical director for the second production of Grease, Rent and Les Miserables.
Former student Alli Kramer said: “Mr. Hickerson was always there for his students! Throughout my time at Amity he taught me so much. He was the music director for the first musical I was ever in at Amity! Les Miserables was a challenging musical, especially for me who was only a sophomore and new to the scene. He has a true gift for teaching and always went above and beyond for his students. My junior year I wanted to start a Glee Club at Amity and he was more than willing to be the head advisor, he was so encouraging! So many fond memories looking back, and he will truly be missed at Amity!”
As valuable as the black box theater is to many students who participate in events there, the decision to take away the choir room came as a disappointment to Hickerson.
Decades earlier the band and choir room used to be in opposite ends of building, so he and Gohstler designed the joint band and choir rooms.
When Superintendent John Brady confirmed there would be a black box theater where the choir room was, he was not happy.
He and and Band Director Phil Dolan (2002-present) still worked well together even though the choir room is (now in room 164) across the way and much too far from the band room for Hickerson’s taste.
A Long Rewarding Career
When Hickerson was young, a man named Tom Givens was his 7th grade music teacher.
Givens was his inspiration. “I’d be in his class and think, ‘I want to be like him.'” — Hickerson went on to teach Givens’ kids.
Hickerson has taught music longer than anyone else at Amity and he’s seen all the changes over the years with 5 superintendents and 12 principals. The average tenure of a music teacher is about 15 years before they get burned out.
Hickerson said he values the idea that he’s done a lot and is still healthy and happy.
He said he has the utmost respect for the support of the Amity community and for the support he’s received for his ideas and the financial backing he’s gotten during his tenure when other colleagues (at other schools) do not have any support.
He loves the fact that 15 of his former students are now music teachers.
Singer, Music Teacher Amanda Kaletsky said: Mr. Hickerson had such a tremendous impact on me, both as a music teacher and a person. He was and is always energetic, positive, and a breath of fresh air. One thing I took from him that I always used in my own teaching was when breaking up groups they were group 1 and group A. Never 1 and 2 or A and B. I always loved that! It is teachers like Mr Hickerson who transcend their discipline and influence is not only as musicians but as people. He’s our Mr Holland and I can never thank him enough for the support he gave me in my own career and the love he showed all of us. I feel like I can’t say enough about him!!
During his 36 years at Amity, many talented boys and girls have come through his door. He says all of them are successful because the ability to have them enjoy music is success.
He’s delighted when former students reach out to say “thank you.”
A favorite story was coming home from an Amity graduation and getting a phone call from a former student’s parent, who said “Brian wants to see you. He’d like you to come to his show.”
Brian Yale was in Hickerson’s Music Theory class and attended Berkley after graduating from Amity.
Yale’s dad told Hickerson that Brian was in a band called Matchbox 20 which was playing in a concert locally.
Hickerson happened to have a copy of the Matchbox 20 CD on his dining room table and was amazed to learn that Brian was on it. He read the liner notes, and was floored when he saw that he was thanked on the inside jacket.
Other former students include the band Minus Ned, which is now based in Los Angeles; former Orange resident and 2008 Amity Grad Todd Lewis Kramer who just released the album, “Fairgrounds”; Country Singer Marla Morris; Brian Klein, who Hickerson said used to cut classes all the time, is now the road manager for the Stone Temple Pilots and gives scholarships to Amity; Orange native Connor Deane, who studied at the University of Cincinnati on a scholarship, is now the Executive Director at the Broadway Method Academy, which just acquired its own building in Fairfield. With his success, Deane helps sponsor the CT High School Musical Theater Awards Gala.
Noted Jazz Pianist Christian Sands, an Amity Grad already was a local legend prior to starting high school. During his junior and senior years Hickerson had Christian use his voice with the Amity Chamber Singers. (His voice was an instrument Christian hadn’t considered before meeting Hickerson).
Hickerson recalls one student in the 80s named Steve (last name was destroyed by my spellcheck) who always called him “Dude.”
Steve was a bit of a slacker with long hair who played a flying v guitar and didn’t care much about classes.
Worried that he would flunk out, his parents pulled him from school, cut his hair, traded the Flying V in for a classical guitar and tutored him at home.
He is now a very respected (professor, I think) living in Washington and is a phenomenal classical guitarist, which he does for relaxation.
Country Singer Marla Morris said: I got to be a student of Mr. Hickerson’s for all four years of my high school career in so many capacities. I could never get enough of his spirit and his passion for his job. Mr. Hickerson was always an incredibly vivacious champion of my music career and of my growth as a young woman, which is something I am forever grateful for. I remember him saying during my senior year that he would be retiring in seven years, and, at the time, that seemed so far away. Congratulations Mr. Hickerson!! You left one heck of a mark at Amity.
NOTE: Hickerson said Morris and Kaletsky both wrote songs that they later recorded in a small room off the former choir room.
My, How Things Have Changed
Back in the day, the Pops Concert was a three-night deal that took place in the gym and was always sold out. Hickerson and the students dedicated a lot of time decorating the room with 7 miles of streamers, setting up seating and then after the performances putting everything back where it was for the next school day.
Among his favorite activities was working with the Chamber Singers. “The Chamber Singers had a connection with the community, and we enjoyed going out and seeing the seniors all the time before it became too cumbersome,” he said. “Kids still like going out at Christmas and singing at the Case Memorial Library during the Festival.”
FREE Reunion Spring Concert
For the past 30 days Hickerson has had a tear off pad with a count-down to his retirement that his own children gave to him.
Of his retirement, Hickerson said, “Everything has changed so much. It’s a wonderful place with good people, but I’ve run my course and I’m okay with it. We put out a good product, the students perform really well, and I truly enjoy working with Phil Dolan. I know I’m leaving the program in good shape.”
“My appreciation is to the parents, some are former students. The parents help me teach my students a lot, they’ve been so supportive of the music department,” he said. “Also, I can’t say enough about Warren Gohstler and Phil Dolan, they were incredible to work with.”
This Friday, June 10, the Amity Music Department will host a FREE Alumni Farewell Concert in the auditorium at 7 p.m.
“I know I’ll get emotional, so the reception before the show is where I will talk to everyone,” Hickerson said.
Every song that will be sung by the Chamber Singers and Alumni choir were chosen for a reason. One will be dedicated to Hickerson’s father who died one week before he started student teaching. The final song will be the first that he ever directed, “Last Words of David,” and Lina Lillios is flying in from Hawaii to accompany it again. “We’re going full circle,” he said.
What’s Next For Mr. Hickerson?
After 36 years in one job, it’s time for Chris Hickerson to relax.
First, he will direct the Chamber Singers at the Graduation Ceremony next Wednesday, then he will slip away.
He is selling his house, getting married to long-time girlfriend Teresa Lawrence the Owner/Director of the Hudson River Performing Arts Center, who brings him great joy, and then moving down south.
Will he be one of those teachers who comes back as an interim teacher if the school needs him?
“No,” he said. “I told Teresa that once I’m done, I’m done and I feel good about my decision.”
“Amity was a great place to work, and I was floored that they dedicated the yearbook to me this year,” he said. “But, this is good-bye.”