2017 Graduation Concert: Hills’ Heartwarming Goodbye to Dr. Bill

A night of music, laughter, and bittersweet goodbyes. The 2017 graduation concert took place in the auditorium on May 18, but this year’s was like no other: it was not only a graduation of the seniors involved in the music program, but also Chris Wilhjelm’s (or as many know him as Dr. Bill) last concert after a successful career of 44 years as a band director at Pascack Hills.

Starting off with jazz band, the program began with Better Get Hit in Your Soul featuring student guest musicians from the acclaimed music schools such as the Manhattan School of Music. Following was their performance was concert choir, members who only rehearse during lunch, their performances including “Scarborough Fair,” “Adiemus,” “Fight Song,” and “Try Everything.”

Francesca Ferraro, a junior, led the next woodwind ensemble “Viktor’s Tale,” her clarinet solo blowing away the crowd before welcoming chamber choir, who performed “Glorious Peace,” “Red River Valley,” “Berusa Erl,” “The Seal Lullaby,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The mix of both traditional and foreign songs made a great transition to the modern “Jar of Hearts,” sung by A Cappella.

One of the major highlights of the night came then, when the faculty choir performed “A Tribute to Queen.” As they sang the last verse of “We are the Champions,” the group motioned their arms towards Dr. Bill, tributing the song not only to Queen but most importantly, to the band director. The song was ended by the crowd’s, audience and students performing, chanting of “Dr. Bill.”

Continuing the night, Dr. Bill conducted the band in pieces such as “First Suite in E Flat for Military,” “Sun Dance,” “Silverado,” “Night on Fire,” and “Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.” Each piece was conducted with such intelligence in order to translate the music to a story for the audience, showcasing drama and emotion with each note.

The night closed with the group number “When You Believe,” a song that delivered the power of music with the combined forces of voices from the choir and instruments from the orchestra.

While the music never ceased to excite the audience, the night was centered on the departure of Dr. Bill. Halfway through the concert, he stopped to make a speech and thank all of those who have made his teaching career able to happen. Thanking supervisors, PFA, staff, his close colleague Margarita Elkin, the choir teacher, and his wife, bouquets and heartwarming hugs were given.

“I have learned so much from [all of] you, you would be astounded to realize how much I have gathered from all of you. I appreciate everything more than you know. I so appreciate the opportunity to work with you. Please know that from the depth of my heart,” states Dr. Bill as he talked about his experience at Hills.

As all the seniors who participated in the music program gathered on stage for senior recognition, members took time to thank both Elkin and Dr. Bill for their hard work and their influence on their student life in the past four years.

A senior student of Elkin’s, Aslana Soobzokov says, “You changed our life and brought us together as a family,” before presenting opera tickets bought by the whole choir to thank her for her teaching.

“One thing I love about Dr. Bill is his humor. His humor is his own breed,” comments Kyle Pearlman, as Ferraro presented New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera tickets with money raised by the band, stating, “You have no idea the influence you had on us. You helped me find myself.”

Closing up the goodbyes, the seniors organized a tribute video for Dr. Bill, filled with messages of those graduating and those who have graduated. Each upperclassman talked about the influence Dr. Bill had on their lives, past and current, and congratulated him as well as wish him a packed journey after retirement.

In honor of Dr. Bill, Elkin says, “”Remember one thing: you will never be forgotten. I will personally miss our conversations about music, about teaching, about life in general, and I wish you the best of luck in your new adventure. It is the moment in your very successful career when you look back and realize how many lives you’ve touched and inspired by doing what you love: making music and teaching. The legacy you are leaving at PHHS will live on!”

If there was ever a bittersweet moment, the graduation concert would be it. While it presented the musical progress of Hills students as it does each spring, the 2017 concert embodied the spirit and bond between student and teacher. It displayed the significance of music and most importantly, bid adieu to one of Pascack Hills’ oldest band directors. As tears were shed and departure was dreaded, the night ended with optimism for the future of both the band of Pascack Hills and Dr. Bill.  

To sum up his career at Hills, Dr. Bill says, “When you’re a teacher, learning and teaching become the same thing. All of you have left an imprint on me as a person, a teacher, and a musician.”