It was nearly a two-and-a-half-hour-long farewell to a popular music teacher in Manhattan High School’s Rezac Auditorium Monday night as music students, colleagues and community and family members wished Steve Easterday a happy retirement as part of the last MHS orchestra concert of the year.
Easterday has taught for 36 years, the last 29 in the Manhattan-Ogden school district. He was hired in 1984 and last night recalled the words that then-superintendent told him upon being hired: “You can keep your head low and hidden or you can let the job consume you.”
“It was good being consumed,” said Easterday.
A native of Atchison, Easterday came from a musical family. His father was a band director, his mother a music teacher for more than 40 years. Easterday began violin lessons at the age of 2, taking up piano a year later. He received his bachelor’s degree in music education and violin at Kansas State University in 1977, returning a few years later to pursue a master of music degree while teaching as a graduate student.
When he was about 6 years old, he recalls seeing an old broken violin in his grandfather’s attic, a purchase made by his grandfather years before for 50 cents. Over the next 50 years, Easterday says both his grandfather and father worked on fixing the instrument, and then four years ago he brought it to someone who was able to finish the delicate process. It was completed just last week and he is now in possession of what he calls “my baby.” The violin is unusual because its outside rim is notched all the way around with tiny abalone or mother-of-pearl inlays. A couple small floral designs of this same material are etched on the violin’s front near the base of the strings.
It was this same violin that Easterday played as part of a trio during the sixth number of the concert, “Ashokan Farewell” along with two of his adult children, Cliff, MHS class of 2003, and Kelsey, class of 2006. Easterday also played the bass as Cliff played the guitar and sang during a performance of “Knights in White Satin.” In addition, Kelsey, a soprano, sang Puccini’s “O Mio Bambino.” Each of these performances was accompanied by the orchestra.
It was truly a family affair as other daughter Baily, class of 2008, sang “If These Walls Could Speak” while her aunt, Lynn Easterday Graham, who came from Maryland to honor her brother, played the piano.
Joel Gittle, band director and unofficial emcee of the evening, also introduced Nate McClendon as the new director of orchestra and announced the establishment of the Steve Easterday Music Scholarship.
Special guests came forward — some via notes and video — to praise Easterday and his tenure. MHS principal Terry McCarty called him “crazy talented”; David Littrell, director of the K-State Orchestra, mentioned Easterday’s talent as a songwriter who wrote “The Kansan Suite” for the 2001 Carnegie Hall appearance with the local Gold Orchestra.
But perhaps the most fitting tribute of all came from a student Gittle spoke to in the process of planning this final musical event. According to Gittle, the student said this of Easterday, “I wasn’t his best student, but I wanted to be.”