Veteran music instructor looks to career coda, choral reunion during final year at Derry Area
When Melody Vigo retires from teaching music this spring, her song will be far from over.
It will reverberate in the lives of generations of Derry Area School District students she helped launch on their own musical journeys.
Music instructors “go into this profession because we love music,” said Vigo, who is completing her 34th year teaching and directing choral groups at Derry Area. “We want to help others fall in love with it just as much. We want that passion for music to carry on through their lives.
“What better tribute can there be to my life than if I can influence somebody to be a lover of music for the rest of their life?”
Vigo encourages former Derry Area choral students whom she directed over the years to return for a May 5 concert at the school that will serve as a celebration of her career at the district.
“I’m hoping to fill the whole stage,” Vigo said, with alumni joining her current students for the final song of the 2 p.m. concert. “That would be so exciting,” she said. “What a way to go out.”
Once a concert rehearsal date is determined, it will be posted on the school district website, she said.
Given her first name and the influence of her parents, Daniel and Glenna Shaw, both musicians, it seems natural that Vigo pursued a musical career.
“My dad was my high school choral director” at Hempfield Area, Vigo said, noting she and her siblings had walk-on roles in his school productions.
In addition to her vocal talent, Vigo can play the flute, piccolo, cello, piano and organ.
“My original thought was to be an opera performer,” she said. But, after enrolling in the Hartt School in Connecticut, she found she couldn’t bear being away from her family and returned to Greensburg’s Seton Hill, switching her major to education. She later pursued advanced studies in opera performance at Duquesne University.
She’s had no regrets about her change in career plans.
Vigo has enjoyed a harmonious relationship with her students — for many years at the district’s middle school, and most recently at the high school. “We treat each other like family,” she said. “They’re having as much fun as I am.”
Vigo draws from a varied repertoire of songs to keep things interesting for herself and the choral ensembles she directs. But, she said, “Our niche is very difficult jazz music and contemporary and classical choral literature.”
The Select Ensemble she directs at the high school provided one of the highlights of her career in 2016, when they became the only choir from Pennsylvania to be chosen through audition to perform at the inaugural High School Choir Festival at West Virginia University. For that appearance, the students were directed by Grammy-winning classical composer and conductor Eric Whitacre.
“That was very cool and fun,” Vigo said.
Another highlight has been conducting an all-star choir of students from various Westmoreland County schools during the annual “Home for the Holidays” concert at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg — a role she hopes to continue in retirement.
“The all-star choir is great fun,” Vigo said. “It makes me very proud to be able to be on the stage with them. The kids are of such a high caliber.
Vigo has been a guest conductor for school choral festivals in Westmoreland and Indiana counties and toured Europe as assistant director and choreographer for the Sound of America Band and Chorus.
She’s found time to sing as a featured soloist in Europe and with the Fred Waring Blendors. Closer to home, she’s also performed with the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, the Saint Vincent Camerata and the Pittsburgh Opera Chorus.
Vigo has seen some of her Derry students go on to bigger stages. Jake Emmerling performed for several years with the touring company of the Broadway musical comedy “The Book of Mormon.”
Next in line could be Michael Bilik, 22, of Derry Township, a senior vocal performance major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania who sings high tenor and is planning to pursue graduate studies in opera performance.
“Mrs. Vigo is the reason I’m studying music,” Bilik said. “She has definitely made singing more in my life than just a hobby. She always pushes students to be the best they can be.
“She helped me prepare for my college auditions. She’s always been a person I was able to reach out to, no matter what.”
Like Vigo’s son, Orren, who teaches music at a Maryland school district, many of her past students have chosen to follow her lead and seek a career as a music educator.
“We have multiple students every year get accepted into the music education programs at IUP, Seton Hill and Duquesne University,” Vigo noted.
With several months of teaching still ahead of her at the high school, Vigo isn’t sure what her next gig will be. But, after years of conducting other vocalists, she intends to raise her own voice in song again.
“I’ve toyed with the idea of putting together a professional singing group,” she said. “I definitely will look for a place to sing.”
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, email@example.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .