Herb Perry was brought to tears when he listened to “Prayers of Teasdale” performed by the Indiana Choral Directors Association’s All-State Honor Choir.
The lyrics were touching — they spoke of life and love and death — but it was the dedication that really moved him.
The song was commissioned for and dedicated to Herb, a retired choral director at Columbus North High School and a past ICDA All-State Chair, and colleague Phil Dunn.
“It was humbling,” he said, sitting on the bench of a baby grand piano he’s had since the age of 16.
“You don’t really realize how much people appreciate you.”
Commissioning the song was a rare and expensive gesture of thanks from the ICDA. Current directors contacted James Mulhulland, a music theory and history professor and esteemed composer, to commission a song in honor of Herb and Dunn.
The process took longer than a year — during which time Herb’s wife, Mary Jane Perry, kept the news a secret.
“We’ve been married 52 years,” she said. “That’s about the only one I’ve kept a secret for that long.”
Herb was a coordinator for the all-state choir for 14 years, and he attributes his success in the role to his relationship with Dunn.
“In 14 years we never lost any money,” he said. “It was a joy to work with Phil. We were compatible and worked well together.”
Herb knew he loved music since his youth.
“I loved listening to it. I loved playing it,” he said.
He attended DePauw for a Bachelor of Music Education and went on to earn his Master of Music Education and Master of Science in guidance and counseling from Indiana University.
“I never became a counselor, but you do counseling all the time as a teacher,” he said.
That meant decades of counseling for him — he came to North in the ’60s and retired in 1997. Between those years, he took his students to Kings Island, St. Louis, Nashville and the Bahamas.
“The reason I retired was not because of the students, but because I was physically tired,” he said.
The biggest lesson he’s learned?
“Patience,” he said. “You have to expect the students to develop.”
He recalled a time a student came to him with a big voice but no control. After spending a few years under Perry’s guidance, she went on to sing in the Metropolitan Opera.
Herb said his students’ accomplishments are his own accomplishments.
“It seems that’s what teaching is all about,” Mary Jane said.
Herb said he’s retired from everything, but that’s not entirely true.
Perry is still part of the jail ministry and choir at First United Methodist Church.
His church has purchased rights to the song, “Prayers of Teasdale” and may perform it in the near future.
Herb said he looks forward to hearing the lyrics brought to life again:
“Until my heart is quenched at length/And I have left the land of men/Oh, let me love with all my strength.”
“It speaks to me,” Herb said. “I love life, and I love my wife.”