ST. CHARLES – About 100 alumni taught by St. Charles East High School choral conductor Jim McCullough joined him and performing students on stage May 11 for a final number – “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
It was McCullough’s last school concert before retiring June 6. Hosted at the Norris Cultural Arts Center in St. Charles, the event capped an extraordinary 23-year run at St. Charles East for McCullough.
Heartfelt performances were sung by the Treble Choir, Symphonic Choir, Bel Canto and Chorale during McCullough’s final choir concert.
McCullough credited his former junior high choir director in Grand Forks, N.D. – who recognized his voice in seventh grade – for inspiring him to pursue a music career.
Thousands of students have been inspired by McCullough.
“I have a short list of life-changing teachers, and he’s near the top,” said Devin Dunn, a 2002 graduate who sang and played piano in various St. Charles East choirs and took jazz piano lessons from McCullough.
“He demanded excellence from us on a daily basis, but he maintained his goofy sense of humor. It was a good balance,” Dunn said.
“Jim is a passionate music educator who leaves a legacy of musical excellence and dedication to his students,” said Gilbert Wukitsch, St. Charles East lead teacher for Fine Arts.
“As a choir director, he is very engaged and attentive with his students. On a personal level, he is very passionate about music, both choral and jazz,” said daughter SommerAnn McCullough, who celebrated the choral conductor with her mother, Kathy, and sister, Molly.
McCullough joined St. Charles High School in 1994 after serving as choral director at Everett High School in Everett, Wash. His St. Charles East accomplishments include expanding the chorale program to six choirs; founding Bel Canto, a group for sophomore through senior women; and creating two Jazz Choir classes.
During the 2016-17 school year, 180 students enrolled in the school’s choir program. McCullough also shared his choral and vocal jazz background with other Midwestern choir directors and educators.
Near the finale May 11, a Jim McCullough Scholarship was announced. It will be presented annually to a choir program senior who presented a passion for choral music and/or vocal jazz and embodies McCullough’s passion for the arts and his belief in the power of music to enrich people’s lives and communities. To donate, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
McCullough hopes to remain involved in music. With vocal jazz and jazz choir his passions, he wants to become more active in composing jazz choir music.
“I love these kids. We have fun working together,” he said. “Their energy feeds my energy and makes me a better teacher. Their ability to sing emotionally and meaningfully really moves me.”