(Top) Sally Schott celebrates with members of the South Houston High Boys Choir at the Sea Arama Choral Festival in 1979. (Below) Schott celebrates the completion of the "Song, Go On" exhibit with contributing former choir students (from left) Traci Washburn Underwood (Class of 1992), Lori Maher Perez (1988), Neal Cooper (1980), Annelle Lively Graham (1978), Scott Graham (1979), Sandy Porraz Borrego (1981), Melissa Medina (2005), Robin Vaughn Hughes (1978) and Stephanie Pomeroy Bailey (1997).
Sally Schott sees the pictures on the wall at South Houston High School and she hears music. Thirty years of music.
She hears “Maria,” from “West Side Story.” She hears “Climb Every Mountain,” from “The Sound of Music.” The songs she hears drape three decades of hard work with dance and wrap each day of those 30 years in tender teenage voices, from beginning to end.
From “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’” (from “Oklahoma”) to “I Could Have Danced All Night” (from “My Fair Lady”).
Almost as well as the songwriters who created them, Schott has known Harold Hill and the Artful Dodger and Billy Bigelow and Curly and Dolly.
And, of course, Tevye, the poor but happy Russian milkman from “Fiddler on the Roof.” During her 30 years as choir director at South Houston – a period in which she produced 30 annual showcase musicals -- Schott staged “Fiddler” twice.
And “Hello Dolly,” “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma” twice.
But “Fiddler on the Roof,” she says without hesitation, “that’s my favorite. It’s just the story behind the musical. I love it.”
“Fiddler,” of course, exhorts the value of “Tradition.” So does Schott’s long tenure at South Houston.
To honor her contributions to the school -- to its students and to the community -- dozens of Schott’s former choir students have raised money to create an exhibit in the school’s Hall of Honor that preserves the spirit of her time in Trojanland, beginning with her arrival in 1974.
The exhibit’s title – “Song, Go On” – reflects the enduring spirit of the musical standards maintained by Schott’s former choir members. The title comes from a song written for a performance at a national conference by her students.
The exhibit -- to be formally unveiled at South Houston’s campus homecoming festivities on Oct. 6 -- features three glass cases of memorabilia and a swinging panel display with dozens of choir photos, sorted by school year, highlighting major performances and special events.
On the walls of the exhibit are large canvas photos of Schott’s musical productions, an annual South Houston tradition that won praise from the Houston fine arts community and provided her students with a lasting bond.
“Sally is someone who inspires people,” says Lori Maher Perez, a 1988 South Houston graduate who had parts in four Schott musicals. “She works hard and she drives people to work hard for her. She instills excellence, but she always maintained respect for her students.”
Nearly 200 of Schott’s former students have raised over $11,000 to fund the exhibit and other planned choir legacy projects. About three dozen of those former students provided manpower help to put the exhibit together.
The display is an extension of the school’s Hall of History museum that opened during homecoming festivities a year ago.
Still, the “Song, Go On” exhibit isn’t the only homecoming contribution planned by the alumni choir members.
Eighty alumni choir members will team up with current South Houston choir students, under the director of Brenda Varvoutis, for “Broadway Extravaganza II,” a musical revue to be held on Oct. 7 in the school auditorium.
The production is a reprise of the “Broadway Extravaganza” production that marked Schott’s departure from South Houston in 2004. Back then, some 60 alumni choir members took part in the production.
One of the featured participants in the 2004 “Extravaganza” will return for a performance in next month’s production. Mary Bowen, a 1991 South Houston graduate, is an successful opera singer who lives in New York City and has performed at Lincoln Center and other top music venues across North America.
All proceeds from “Broadway Extravaganza II” will go to the South Houston Choral Department to help fund their 2017 musical, “Once Upon A Mattress.”
Schott said she is delighted by the contributions made by her former students.
“Our new display captures the spirit of the choir very effectively,” she said. “It conveys that feeling of family, of teamwork – the spirit that you should always drive yourself to do your best.”
Perez admits she was “scared to death” the first time she met Schott.
“You knew she wasn’t someone you were going to be able to fool,” Perez said. “But you also had immediate respect for her. She promoted a sense of family from the beginning.”
Hundreds of other former Schott students agree.
“My choir years shaped who I am today,” says Rhonda Mahula Gilbert, a 1983 South Houston graduate. “Only those who experience it can understand how important this legacy is today.”
The Hall of Honor exhibit will feature a plaque that will list all the alumni choir members who contributed to the project.
Perez made a cash donation in honor of her late mother.
“She was a huge choir booster,” Perez says.
“She sold many a pizza kit in her day!”
Among the organizers of “Broadway Extravaganza II” is Pam Rhea Dishongh, a 1986 South Houston graduate who was also colonel of the school’s ’Jannettes dance team. Dishongh is choreographing “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” from “Kiss Me Kate,” a number featuring 30 former members of two specialty girls groups and 10 current specialty group members.
Dr. Tim Lyles, a 1992 SHHS graduate who is now associate pastor of music at Southland Baptist in San Angelo, will direct a male ensemble group for the song “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” from “South Pacific”.
Contributions to the choir legacy project have taken several forms. Jeromy Barber, a 1993 SHHS graduate, has made DVDs from old VHS tapes of Schott musicals and concerts dating back to 1981. Forty performances can be currently viewed on YouTube.
Barber is the grandson of Jimmy Barber, South Houston’s principal from 1981 to 1991. He also played Harold Hill in the 1993 production of “The Music Man.”
“As soon as I heard about the project, I knew it was time to give back,” Perez said. “Sally gave us 30 years of her time, and not just during school. What we’re giving back really is just a little bit of time. But, hopefully, it will inspire current students to give as well.”
Schott left public education in 2004 to supervise student teaching for vocal music majors at the University of Houston. She has published five music reading books and produced four DVD documentaries featuring renowned choral musicians.
Tickets for “Broadway Extravaganza II” will be sold at the door for $5 (students) and $10 (adults). Curtain time on Oct. 7 is 6:30 p.m.
Not much will have changed regarding Schott’s role.
“I’ll be helping people get to where they need to be and doing what they need to be doing,” she says. “Which is just what I’ve always done.”
About 80 former SHHS choir members will combine talents with current choir members for "Broadway Extravaganza II" on Oct. 7 in the school auditorium. Mary Bowen (right), Class of 1991 and a professional opera singer living in New York, will join the cast.
The "Song, Go On" theme crowns the new alumni choir display at South Houston High.
Former SHHS choir members Traci Washburn Underwood, Class of 1992, and Stephanie Pomeroy Bailey, Class of 1997, point to their pictures from Sally Schott musicals. Underwood was part of the cast for "Carousel" in 1989. Bailey was a cast member for "The Boyfriend" in 1996.
Choir alums Annelle Lively Graham (Class of 1978), Scott Graham (1979), Sandy Porraz Borrego (1981) and Robin Vaughn Hughes (1978) swap memories while looking over the "Song, Go On" exhibit.