After conducting more than 400 concerts and directing 45 musicals over his 38-year career, Barton Community College Vocal Instructor Vern Fryberger is ready to step off stage and begin his retirement.
But, it’s not because he’s tired of the vocation.
“I’ve been at the college for 22 years and it doesn’t seem like it at all,” he said. “I’ve loved it here and it’s a great facility. It’s been great working with professionals, and I mean both here in the Music Department and everybody who works for the college. I love what I’m doing, I just think now is the right time.”
He said part of his decision to begin retirement was to avoid wearing out to the point that he couldn’t enjoy the time off to the fullest.
“I don’t think people realize how physical music jobs are,” he said. “We’re constantly moving pianos, risers, sound equipment and putting stuff together for tours. Fortunately my hair has held out; so has my heart.”
By heart, he speaks both literally and figuratively, noting he always felt motivated to make every day worth the effort.
“There was really great music here before me, so the challenge has been to maintain that,” he said. “I liked the tradition of music that had been here and had a high respect for it. I felt privileged to get a job out here doing this. When I interviewed I told them I wanted this to be my last place, my career spot, not a stepping stone. From that point of view, I felt like I could put everything I had into it.”
After retirement, all that energy will be refocused toward… well, as for his plan for how to spend all his time, he said that’s still up in the air.
“I don’t have a plan because I want to not have a plan for awhile,” he said, explaining the performance world is full of constant deadlines and timelines. “I want to not have any deadlines for awhile. I want to wake up and think, ‘what am I doing to do today? Oh, I’ll go out to lunch.’ That’ll be nice. But mostly I just want to take some time to enjoy every day and retire while I’m young enough and able to go do things.”
Most who know Fryberger are aware of his many accomplishments as a leader in the local music culture. He was instrumental in the renovations of facilities at Barton, including the Dorothy Moses Morrison Chapel and the Fine Arts Auditorium. He said his proudest achievements include the founding of the Community Choir and establishing the music endowment scholarship fund, which boasts more than $60,000 to support music students at Barton.
“The endowment is going to be there forever to help people,” he said. “I feel really good about that.”
He said the people and his relationships are the aspects of his daily work he will miss the most, calling his coworkers Voice Instructor Glenna Gaunt, Instrumental Music Instructor Steve Lueth and Piano Instructor Karole Erikson “rocks.”
“They’re always there,” Fryberger said. “I’m fortunate to have been able to work with really talented people in our department. I can’t think of any time we have ever had any type of issue. The spirit of cooperation is so great, it makes it a real joy to come to work.”
Gaunt, Lueth and Erikson said the feeling has been mutual.
“Vern is patient with freshmen music theory students who need extra time to understand and apply the concepts, always offering to spend the extra time necessary to move them forward in their education,” Gaunt said. “Vern has been a pleasure to work with as he always goes above and beyond with colleagues, students, recruiting, for the department, and for Barton. His ability to bring out groups’ best sound is ever-present in each rehearsal and his positive and lighthearted approach is engaging to members of all the various groups.”
“Vern has instilled in all of his students a love for music and more specifically singing that will last a lifetime,” Erikson said. “In all of my years of accompanying choir, I have witnessed the way he impressed on students a respect for different styles of music and a respect for choral traditions. At the same time, he is able to bring a lightheartedness and a sense humor to choir rehearsals. From an accompanist standpoint, I couldn’t have worked with a better musician and understanding choir director.”
“It has been a pleasure and a honor to work with Vern,” Lueth said. “He is the consummate professional and he cares about students, the music department and the college.”
Fryberger’s last concert will be the Music Endowment Concert set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 1 in the Fine Arts Auditorium. His last day at Barton will be May 15.