Good Life

Retiring State High director of choirs Drafall always enjoyed the challenge

Robert Drafall plays the piano as he leads the master singers at State College Area High School.
Robert Drafall plays the piano as he leads the master singers at State College Area High School. CDT photo

Sunshine is an undervalued privilege.

A little more than a decade ago, the going rate for a little bit of natural light was roughly $2,500, the amount students at State College Area High School collected to have a window installed in a dim dungeon of a classroom — an effort to ensure that Director of Choirs Bob Drafall was at least tangentially associated with that big warm thing up in the sky.

For the past 19 years, Drafall has averaged a 70-hour workweek, which is slightly less daunting when broken down into five easy 14-hour days of classwork, choir rehearsals and his duties as music coordinator for the State College Area School District.

In other words, Drafall and the sun are often operating entirely independent of one another — but that’s about to change.

The 2014-15 school year marks Drafall’s very last, a final period at the end of 33-year-old sentence.

“This will be the first time since I was 5 years old that the end of August doesn’t bring school,” Drafall said.

What it will bring is still entirely up in the air. Charity work is most definitely on the horizon — Drafall imagines that he’ll volunteer with organizations such as Meals on Wheels — but beyond that he’s looking forward to going off book and improvising for the very first time.

“My life has been so scripted for so long,” Drafall said.

He arrived at State High in 1996, where he has served as director of choirs and taught advanced placement classes on music theory.

The humanity in teaching is what has kept him engaged for so long. He takes great pride in the students he has gotten to work with and the efforts he has made to connect with them as people.

“Every group of kids has different qualities,” Drafall said.

Although he always imagined himself teaching music in some capacity, he said he never expected to do it at the level he was able to at State High, where he conducted student choirs in venues as prestigious as Carnegie Hall.

For the past four years he has served as SCASD’s music coordinator for grades K-12, a job that spans 13 buildings and oversees 25 full-time music teachers — essentially it’s a lot of meetings.

Drafall said he’s been grateful for the challenge and for what he’s been able to achieve. During his tenure, the district hired 10 new music teachers and added one part-time position at Delta Middle School.

When Drafall announced his retirement, he requested that the search for his replacement as music coordinator begin early to ensure a smooth transition. In January, candidates were interviewed and Paul Leskowicz, State High’s director of bands, was selected.

“When I walk out and finally turn in my keys I’ll feel like I’ve done my job,” Drafall said.

That moment is getting closer and closer.

Last weekend, Drafall’s wife led him blindfolded into a room at the Penn State School of Music, where he was surprised by more than 100 State High choir alumni. The group performed a concert in his honor.

Drafall said that when he made the decision 18 months ago to retire, he was at peace with it, and today nothing has changed.

Now, most of what’s left is the same mundane benchmarks that compose the end of every school year. By next week the seniors will have finished classes. The following week, finals will begin.

And then commencement.

When it is all said and done, Drafall will still have one last hurrah left with his choir. On July 7, they’ll embark on a concert tour of Europe, visiting such cities as Provence and Nice, France, before concluding with a performance at the famed La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

It’s a high note to end on — and it probably won’t be the last one he ever plays.

While he has no current plans to wave the baton again, Drafall said he’s not shutting out music.

“It’s nice to have question marks sometimes,” he said.