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Michael Stevenson named Choral Director of the Year

Music must be a part of Michael Stevenson’s genetics.  Ever since he was a child, his dad recognized his talent and suggested he become a choral director.

Starting his teaching career in Montana, Stevenson has been Dickinson High School’s choral director for 23 years.

Those many years of directing music have been recognized by the North Dakota Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. Stevenson was named North Dakota Choral Director of the Year during the state conference on Jan. 31 in Grand Forks.

The award is given to a member of the association who best represents a teacher/conductor in their field, said Michael Weber, associate director of choral activities at North Dakota State University.

“I think he’s very deserving of award,” he said. “He cares for students and tries to give them the best.”

Stevenson appreciated the recognition because it comes from his peers.

“It’s a very big deal,” Stevenson said. “It’s an association of all the choral directors from college, high school, church and community.”

Charlette L. Moe, coordinator of Master of Music in Music Education at North Dakota State University, wrote a letter of support for Stevenson’s nomination after observing his work at the Northern Plains Festival, All-State Auditions, and various honor choir activities.

“Mr. Stevenson is clearly devoted to students,” she wrote. “His students are always prepared and often are the leaders within a festival or contest. With his positive attitude and participation in activities throughout the state, he is the epitome of service teaching.”

One of Stevenson’s former students supported Moe’s observations.

A music major at NDSU, Tescher wrote, “Mr. Stevenson always challenged us, we did ear training every morning, and he created many performance opportunities. He was always at school for rehearsals, like our 7 a.m. Swing Choir rehearsals. He would make learning CD’s for us and coached drama. He definitely created an atmosphere of taking our choir rehearsals seriously, but we still had a lot of fun.”

Stevenson graduated from Havre High School in 1969.

“Ever since I was a tiny kid, my father wanted me to be a choral director,” Stevenson remembers. “My father wanted to be a choir director, but then took over my mother’s farm. He did go back and later finished his degree and taught music.”

Stevenson wasn’t as sure about pursing music education as was his father.

“If we’d go to Glacier National Park, I’d think it would be neat to be a park ranger,” he said. “Then my dad would say, ‘Yes, you could be a singing ranger.’”

Stevenson studied piano and was cast in leads in school plays and operettas. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree in music education from the University of Montana.

He started his teaching K-12 choral and instrumental music in Hingham and Rudyard — two schools near Havre. He then taught choral and instrumental music from fifth grade on up at Scobey, Mont. He returned to Hingham and Rudyard and also taught at Beach High School before joining the DHS faculty.

“I like the size of the school, I like the town,” he said. “It’s very much like Havre with a small college and a couple of schools.”

When Stevenson came on board at DHS, he taught one women’s choir of about 16 girls and the junior high vocal program. He now carries a full load with block scheduling at DHS.

“I have three choirs that meet during the school day and then I have a swing choir that meets outside of school,” he said. “I’m in charge of the all the solo and ensemble work that is done for competitions.”

It’s certainly not an 8-to-3:30 job, as he demonstrates with after-school rehearsals and concerts. He also directs the DHS theater program.

He challenges the students to do their best.

“There’s pressure — pressure to perform well,” he said. If students perform well, they will be rewarded. I think they enjoy singing and are very dedicated to the organization. They are a loyal bunch.”

Stevenson said it’s the students who give him the energy to continue teaching.

“It’s when you see them accomplish their goals and then see them go out into the world,” he said.

He points to former students who are teaching in the Dickinson school system — all over the place, as he likes to say.

“Then when they are off to college and call back to say ‘thank-you,’ that they are ahead of the other students,” he said.

Stevenson has taken his students on field trips out of state to learn from other directors. However, he prefers to bring composers to Dickinson so that everyone can take advantage of the training. The next time he plans a trip is when he retires, which is at least a few more years down the road.