After 25 years at Bemidji High, music teacher Chris Fettig says the biggest rewards are students, not trophies.
Hundreds of trophies line the shelves and walls of the Bemidji High School choir room, reflecting decades of notable performances by choir students.
But the awards are not what most impress Chris Fettig, the school's music director.
"These are my most important trophies," he said, looking at the 20 graduating class picture collages that line the back wall of the room, dating back to the early 1990s.
"They are the students who sang here for all four years," he added.
Fettig stood on the auditorium stage on a recent Friday morning in front of the 60-plus members of the school's A Cappella Choir.
Striking a tuning fork against his stand, the 48-year-old teacher took a moment to listen before humming a note. Raising his hands prompted the students to quiet down, and the soft-spoken man invited them to sing.
Fettig awakens at 6 a.m. on Mondays so he can be at school by 7:30 a.m. to assist students who may need his help. His day won't end until 12 hours later, when he finishes the last of a series of after-school practice sessions.
Senior Kiley Hazelton said she doesn't know how Fettig is so patient after working so many hours.
"We get tired, but it makes you think he is directing it and it has to be tiring," she said.
His days are long, but Fettig seems as motivated as ever after 25 years at the school and the force behind several community choirs.
Some days, Fettig said, he feels like he has another 20 years in him. Other days he wishes he were looking at five years. But over time, he said, he has learned an important lesson:
"You really have to take time every once in a while to look at the kids and realize what they need and what this program is giving to them," he said. "Music adds depth to students' lives."
There is something Fettig appreciates more than hearing an audience applaud at a concert -- having high school alumni come back to visit him.
"It's great to hear all the clapping, but it's nothing compared to a student who comes back to tell you it lifted them and helped them in some way. I enjoy the relationships I've developed with the kids and their families."
Fettig's teaching style is unforgettable to many students. He tells students music is about cooperation and not competition, and about being expressive, not aggressive.
Today's students have more pressure to achieve higher academic standards, Fettig said, but he thinks the arts should always be an option for students.
"I think there needs to be arts to feed our spirit," he said. "It's not just our mind and body, but our soul. I tell the kids we need to be of many dimensions."
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