Music teacher embraces last year before retirement

Cathy Elisar ended the final spring concert of her 33-year teaching career without shedding a tear.

“I was all smiles,” Elisar said a few days after the concert, which was held April 22 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. “I expected to (cry) but I did not.”

Elisar, who has taught choir at both East Ascension and Dutchtown high schools, said she decided to retire from her job as a Dutchtown High School music teacher last year and “made a decision to embrace the last year and enjoy every single moment.”

The four bouquets of flowers, cards and gifts she received from students and alumni were all met with “smiles, lots of smiles,” she said.

This week, she’s enjoying the last state choral competition of her teaching career. Elisar and her Dutchtown High School choir students are competing in a state choral contest in Lake Charles.

She expects the last few weeks of school will have bittersweet moments.

But Elisar said she is ready for the next chapter of her life.

Elisar knew song would be a part of her life forever when, as a freshman at Ursuline Academy in New Orleans, she attended her first choir concert.

“In the middle of a harp solo, tears rolled down my baby face ... and I knew right there and never looked back,” she said.

She started music teaching career in 1980 at Burras High School.

She moved to Ascension Parish a few years later.

Her first students at EAHS knew her as “Miss Federoff.”

She married an Ascension Parish native and they live in the Dutchtown area.

“This is home,” she said.

Elisar got to make a contribution to her adopted hometown several years ago when she was inspired to write the school’s alma mater while driving past the then under construction Dutchtown High building.

She said that one day, after driving by the construction site for nearly two years, she realized she was humming a melody. When she got to her destination, she was still humming the unknown melody.

“It (the melody and words) just came,” she said.

She wrote a few lines of the song, but the rest did not come easy.

She had to include the school’s colors and new mascot and pay tribute to the alumni who attended the old Dutchtown High School.

She succeeded and is proud each time she hears the students sing the alma mater.

Elisar describes her first-year students as “awesome.” In fact, she uses “awesome” to describe all of her students.

With a teaching philosophy that strives to provide instruction to each student, whether they want to make singing their profession or are happy singing in the middle of the choir, Elisar said, she will leave with lots of fond memories of her students.

“I give them all attention and opportunity to shine,” she said. “I love them all.”

Her students and many alumni showed her their appreciation during that recent concert.

As the students tried to sing a tribute to her, their version of “Lean on Me” just wasn’t working. The students were emotional, she said, and it just wasn’t happening so I jumped in and it was perfect.”

Her biggest shock of the night was when former student Rhett Glindmeyer, a professional musician, came from Nashville to honor his former teacher.

He presented her with a charm bracelet and lots of hugs.

Elisar’s retirement plans call for her to read one book each week, travel and rekindle friendships that were on the back burner.

She still plans to sing in her church choir and help out if the school calls.

She said she is sure her departure won’t negatively affect the school’s music program. She credited the school and School Board’s administrations for supporting a strong music program “that provides social, intellectual and emotional benefits.”

In choir, she said, students have to work hard to learn not only how to read music, but properly interpret the notes.

“It take teamwork, and I’ve had some great teams over the years,” she said.