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  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Music Director Sophia Santerre works with choir students Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at Nashua High School South.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Music Director Sophia Santerre works with choir students Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at Nashua High School South.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Music Director Sophia Santerre works with choir students Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at Nashua High School South.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

South music director Santerre leaving Nashua after 14 years

Cameron Kittle

Sitting in her office at Nashua High School South, music director Sophia Santerre couldn’t hide a wide smile as one of her close friends and colleagues gushed about her career.

“I’ve never worked with a music teacher as energetic, qualified, full of life, dedicated to the kids, and has such a high standard for her program in my 23 years of teaching,” said Tony Cournounis, who, as band director at South, works closely with Santerre.

“Whoever comes in to fill her shoes has a huge job ahead of them,” he said.

That’s only a snapshot of Santerre’s impact in 14 years in the Nashua School District. She plans to retire in June and take a position at Southern New Hampshire University, where she will be the director of the college’s music education program.

Santerre, 50, started in Nashua in 1998 and now oversees the entire K-12 music curriculum, as well as the choral program at South.

When she started, the choral program had fewer than 100 students. Now, even after Nashua High School split in 2004, the choral program has more than 200 kids at both schools.

“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to build something here,” she said, of the choral program. “All the opportunities we give to students … there are so many memorable moments.”

One of the best memories was when Santerre took the South Concert Choir down to Baltimore last year, to perform at the national Music Conductor’s Conference.

The panel chooses one program every year after blindly listening to a song from each.

Santerre was proud they chose South.

“It gives you that warm feeling, you know?” she said. “That feeling like you’re doing the right thing.”

Santerre has developed close relationships with her students over the years, mostly due to her honesty in class. She shares occasional personal stories with students and invites them to chat in her office, she said, which lets the students know she cares about them.

She plays music from all different styles and time periods for her students, from Baroque and Renaissance eras to contemporary choral music and pieces from “Glee,” the popular TV show focused on a high-school glee club.

“Having ‘Glee’ out there is great because it brings out their excitement of singing that style of music,” Santerre said.

Still, she doesn’t let too much pop music distort her overall curriculum.

“Some kids want to sing Lady Gaga tunes in full choir, but you can only take so much of that,” she said, laughing. “I want them to sound good. I’ve taken pride in the music we do.”

Santerre also has worked hard to develop a strong music theory program at the high school, something most students don’t experience until college.

She’s leaving the district for more relaxation and a different level of work at Southern New Hampshire University.

She expects to be busy with teaching both college classes in Manchester and private lessons near her home in York, Maine, but she plans on spending more time with her family and starting a website to sell her quilting creations – mostly table runners and potholders.

“I’m only 50. I don’t see myself as stopping working, but it’s time to start making changes for the future,” she said. “Things progressed at Southern New Hampshire and they’ve given me another way to grow.”

Her husband, Paul, works as a music teacher in Pelham, she said. They live together in York and commute into New Hampshire, after they sold their house in Merrimack last year to save some money.

Principal Jennifer Seusing spoke highly of Santerre and said she has transformed the South music program into one of the best in the state.

“The choral program has seen significant growth in size and quality under Sophia,” she said. “She’s a wonderful mentor to the musical program and a fierce advocate for all things music. She gives such a gift to our district.”

Seusing said it will be hard to see Santerre go, but she will certainly find success elsewhere.

“I’m happy for her. I think it’s always important for people to grow,” Seusing said. “You’ll probably see the enrollment grow where ever she goes.”

The Learning Curve appears Thursdays in The Telegraph. Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also check out Kittle (@Telegraph_CamK) on Twitter.