TRAVERSE CITY — The curtain is closing on Russ Larimer’s 26-year career as a Traverse City Area Public Schools’ choir teacher and director.
The end of the school year this week marked the start of his retirement. Student musicals, performances and concerts dominated his life during the last 15 years he spent at Traverse City West Senior High School.
But in that time, music played a supporting role to Larimer’s more important goal of educating students.
“The longer I’ve taught, the more I’ve realized it’s not about the subject matter you’re teaching,” Larimer said during a break from cleaning out his cluttered office. “It’s about the opportunity to teach life skills.”
Self-expression, leadership, teamwork and perseverance are just some of the skills student musicians learned under Larimer’s tutelage.
“I just think the cognitive process, the way the brain works, music and the arts are like vitamins for that,” Larimer said.
And Larimer learned plenty from his students in return.
“It’s been great working with kids and trying to figure out the best way to get an idea across to them,” he said. “I’m constantly being a student.”
Larimer is the son of former TCAPS choir director Melvin Larimer, who worked for the district in the 1960s.
Russ Larimer left Traverse City with his family when he was in the 9th grade. He studied music at Albion College and worked in retail after graduation.
In an effort to forge a reputation independent of his father — who was a well-known and respected judge at chorale festivals throughout Michigan — Larimer later moved to South Dakota. He spent several years in the Great Plains state before he had a chance to return to Traverse City, a place he previously left “kicking and screaming.”
Larimer joined TCAPS in 1987. He took the choir director position at West Senior High School when it opened in 1997.