Debra Perry describes herself as “a proud product of Grand Rapids Public Schools.”
A graduate of Creston High School, she now is in her 27th year of teaching for GRPS, including almost a decade as a music teacher at Coit Creative Arts Academy.
She said she loves Coit’s integration of creative expression, visual arts, music, dance and movement with academic excellence (Coit is an authorized International Baccalaureate World School offering the Primary Years Programme).
She also loves passing along pieces of her own musical journey to the next generation.
A noted songwriter and arranger, founder of the Majestic Praise Chorale and CEO of Joint Heir Music Group, her own record label, and Joint Heir Music Studios, Perry has spent a lifetime in music.
She credits much of her passion for the profession to her time as a GRPS student, including fond memories of the many teachers who influenced her along the way, folks like Duane Davis and Jean Gardner at Creston who kindled the musical sparks that had begun at Ridgemoor Park Elementary and Northeast Junior High.
And, she admitted, she hopes that maybe someday her students at Coit will look back on the time they spent with her in the same ways she recalls her GRPS experiences.
“Yes,” she said with a soft smile and a bowed head. “I certainly hope to leave a lasting legacy when my time here is complete.”
Chances are a performance this weekend by her Coit Honors Choir will be part of that lasting legacy.
The choir, made up of students in grades 3-5 at Coit, will be part of the West Michigan Youth Ballet’s presentation of “The Nutcracker” on December 3 at 1 p.m. at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center.
They not only will sing during the performance as part of “The Waltz of the Snowflakes" but they also will perform for 15 minutes before “The Nutcracker” begins, a mini concert that those planning to attend will not want to miss.
“We’ll lead off with ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ which means ‘give us peace,’” said Perry. “It begins in Latin, and, yes, the scholars will sing in Latin. They’re up to any challenge. We’ll then do a couple of other familiar songs that we think people will really enjoy.”
Perry’s scholars are up to any challenge, she added, because she is not afraid to challenge her choir, musically and beyond.
At a recent rehearsal ahead of “The Nutcracker” appearance, she was no-nonsense as students settled in for their weekly 45-minute session with their director.
Microphone in hand, sitting by her familiar keyboard, she surveyed her scholars and noticed something she didn’t like.
“All right,” she said. “If you’re eating, you need to stop. This is rehearsal. This is a performing group. The point of rehearsing is to go somewhere and perform, and that’s what we’re getting ready to do. We have a lot to do, so let’s get started with our warm-up.”
And with that, her dozens of elementary school singers rose and got ready to work.
Perry also rose, baton now in hand, eyes fixed steadily on her young charges, looking to the future.
- Click to see a larger version Debra Perry, far left, and some of the members of her Coit Creative Arts Academy Honors Choir before a recent rehearsal
- Click to see a larger version Debra Perry getting ready to rehearse with her Honors Choir
- Click to see a larger version Baton in hand, Debra Perry leads her Honors Choir in a warm-up
- Click to see a larger version Outside the doorway to Debra Perry’s classroom at Coit Creative Arts Academy is a message of inspiration for her young scholars