Tuesday, June 4, 2013
For the past 31 years, Nancy Cross has been turning young students toward the beauty of music.
Each fall, a new team of fifth graders walks into Cross’ strings classrooms not knowing the first thing about the violin, viola, cello and string bass and a few short months later, they amaze their families and friends by playing beautifully in their spring concert. As this school year comes to a close, she’s setting down her baton and retiring from the career she has loved for three decades.
“It’s bittersweet,” Cross said of her retirement. “I won’t miss getting up at 5 a.m., but I will miss the children and the faculty.”
She plans to use her new free time to learn a new language. She’ll be taking Spanish 101 at Trident Technical College, and she’ll be learning to play a bassoon. She’ll also be able to devote more time to her volunteer work, reading, playing horseshoes, throwing darts and playing Scrabble.
Cross earned her bachelor’s degree in cello performance from Furman University and participated in graduate studies at Ohio State University. Her love for music and her desire to share that love with others prompted her to become a teacher.
Cross was one of four teachers who initiated the strings program in the Charleston County School District in 1969 under the direction of Dr. Raymond Thigpen. She also taught strings for two years in Dallas, Texas in the mid-1970s. She and her family moved back to the Charleston area in 1982 and Cross returned to teaching in 1985.
At the time, she taught music in nine schools in Charleston County, traveling daily throughout the county in the James Island and the Moultrie school districts. For 10 years, she served as lead teacher and for seven of those years, she assisted with the Charleston Youth Symphony.
When the strings program started in 1969, there were four elementary schools in Mount Pleasant. Now there are seven, and she has taught at all of them. Each year, she recruits between 200 and 250 rising fifth graders to enter the beginning strings program.
Over the years, she has impacted the lives of approximately 6,000 students.
A few students met with Cross Friday morning after one of her last classes and reflected on what the strings program has meant to them. “It’s been a real pleasure,” Whitesides Elementary School fifth grader Ben Felty said. “It’s like having a new best friend.”
“I was intimidated at first, but you helped me a lot and I get it now,” added student Carson Davis.
“I bet a lot of kids you taught can get a scholarship, because of you and I want one,” fellow student Emma Davis said. “It’s so joyful. You’ve taught us and helped us a lot.”
Many of Cross’ former students have received music scholarships to schools such as the College of Charleston, Furman, Wofford and Brown. One student went to Julliard and some have returned to the classroom as strings teacher themselves.
Cross is the beginning strings teacher for all of the students in Mount Pleasant schools who go through the strings program. “I’m the only teacher at the beginning,” she said. “They don’t even know how to hold the instruments when they come in the classroom in September.”
Each year, a spring concert is held with all of the elementary schools in Mount Pleasant. “I get to direct all of my students in the concert,” Cross said. “Then, we get to listen to all of the middle school orchestras and the high school orchestra. I get to see my babies all grown up.”
Cross’ outstanding work with students led to her being appointed to a national committee for the American Strings Teachers Association, on which she served for two years. In 2007, she was awarded a Yale Distinguished Music Award. The speaker for the award program was Roberta Guaspari, a strings teacher from New York City who wrote “Music of the Heart.”
A quote from that book has special meaning for Cross, “Music has such power - to move someone, to change someone. Creativity has its very roots in nature; rhythm itself begins with the beat of the human heart.” “I really believe that,” said Cross. “I got to spend some time talking with her. She became my hero then.”
Cross sure seemed like a hero to the fifth grade students, who were lined up to get her to sign their yearbooks last week at Whitesides. Cross is an accomplished cellist herself, but will quickly tell you that her greatest reward comes from the accomplishments of her students.