Viking Choir sings commissioned piece to departing director

The Viking Choir at Homewood-Flossmoor High School gave their beloved choir director Mike Rugen a final send-off on May 23, performing a piece specially written for him.

At the end of the program, the students surprised him with “You Will Never Know,” written for his retirement. The piece was commissioned by the H-F Music Department and the Choral Parents Association and composed by Flossmoor teacher and composer Heather Hoefle.

H-F High Choir Director Mike Rugen at his last concert May 23, 2019. (Provided photo)
  H-F High School Choir Director
  Mike Rugen at his last concert
  May 23, 2019. 
(Provided photo)
 

The touching piece told Rugen that he will never know how many lives he’s impacted over his 30 years at H-F, but the knowledge he has shared has touched many hearts.

 
Hoefle has been directing the fifth and sixth grade bands at Flossmoor Hills and Heather Hill Schools and the band at Parker Junior High the past 13 years. In that time, she’s interacted with H-F Band director and teacher Sarah Whitlock. 
 
It was Whitlock who asked her to compose a piece for the 2018 program Solar Winds honoring renowned physicist and long-time H-F resident Eugene Parker. 
 
As Rugen’s retirement drew near, Whitlock turned to Hoefle and asked her to compose something that would honor Rugen. 

Composer Heather Hoefle, left, and H-F High band director Sarah Whitlock, center, listen as Steven Sifner offers suggestions on " You Will Never Know," a piece Hoefle wrote for Mike Rugen who was retiring as the H-F choir director. Sifner directed the Viking Choir as members sang the piece for Rugen May 23. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
  Composer Heather Hoefle, left,
  and H-F High band director
  Sarah Whitlock listen as
  Steven Sifner offers suggestions
  for a vocal piece Hoefle wrote
  for 
retiring H-F choir director
  
Mike Rugen. (Marilyn Thomas/
  H-F Chronicle)
 

 
It was a challenge, because Hoefle hadn’t composed for voice before. She couldn’t find a poem or literary piece that she could draw from, so she wrote the lyrics herself.
 
“I wrote the words first and then I kept thinking of melodies with the words and I finally had one that kept sticking and coming back so I started with that,” Hoefle explained.
 
She was able to write a lovely piece for voice with woodwind and horn accompaniment. It took a few weeks. She asked vocal teachers for some help to make sure the voice ranges were correct.
 
“Once I start a project, I get a little obsessed. It’s in my head and I have to get it in the computer,” she explained. “It doesn’t leave me alone.”
 
She wrote, revisited and edited the piece using Finale, a music software program. She shared the work with Whitlock, who approved. 
 
With Finale, Hoefle was able to provide the piece to H-F Viking Choir members who could hear it in their voice range. That helped with practice because Whitlock had a tough time getting all the students together at once for one of six pre-concert rehearsals, especially since the work was meant to be a surprise for Rugen.
 
The day before the Red and White choral program, about half the members of the choir got together to rehearse the piece. It was the first time Hoefle had heard it performed. She was delighted.
 
Hoefle is making a name for herself as a composer. She had three pieces for beginning band and high school band published in 2018 and has six more that will be published in the fall for very beginning bands to middle school.
 
“I’ve been arranging for my bands for years because sometimes you need something to fit your group,” she said. “I would think: ‘I would like a piece like this,’ and I couldn’t find it, so I thought ‘I’ll just write it, why not?’”
 
Three years ago, she started writing original pieces and “I tried them with my bands and they seemed to work and the kids seemed to like them.”
 
Hoefle thanks Whitlock for helping her meet the publishing world. It was the H-F band that played her compositions for audio files so Hoefle could send them to the publishers.
 
She got a call from Robert W. Smith, a very well known educator and composer, who published the first three pieces and is working with her on those being released this year.
 
Hoefle expects to keep composing, especially for school bands. She considers her work developing “teaching material for band directors, but it has to be enjoyable and fun to play and educational and all those things.”
 
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