DUFFIELD — The end of the school year may not have gone as planned, but that didn’t stop students at Rye Cove High School from giving their retiring band director a special sendoff.

Several band students recently participated in a virtual tribute concert for Sheila King, who retired June 30 after 27 years at the school. Compiled by student Brayden Gilliam, the video included a performance of one of King’s favorite songs, along with several personal messages from students.

“I would like to thank Brayden Gilliam for taking on the task of putting the tribute together for me,” King said. “I know that he put a lot of hours into editing and creating the movie. I appreciate all who participated in this amazing tribute.”

A memorable career

King taught for 34 years, spending the first seven years at Powell Valley Middle School before heading to Rye Cove. She worked at both the intermediate school and high school, teaching fifth through 12th grades.

When looking back on her career, King recalls a number of fond memories, one of the most recent being her trip to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year with three of her band students, who were invited to participate in Macy’s Great American Marching Band.

“That was the first time that had ever happened to me or anybody at Rye Cove,” King said, “so that was pretty awesome.”

King recalls a number of memorable — and sweltering — band camps, which she often referred to as the “best/worst time” her band students would ever have. Some of her former students now teach music in public schools and colleges, while one is serving as the sound technician for country singer Dierks Bentley.

“I have a lot of kids who still get in contact with me,” King said. “I get Mother’s Day calls and holiday calls, (calls about) ‘I’m getting married’; I’m having a baby.’ That warms my heart. It’s always good to hear from them, especially when they call you up or come and see you and tell you, ‘I’m glad I was in the band. You and the band made such a big difference in my life.’ ”

King’s students have also received many band-related honors over the years, winning sweepstakes awards, superiors and many others. Through it all, King said she’s always enjoyed watching students achieve their dreams and goals, both in and out of the band room.

“There have been a lot of things that have went on in those years — some crazy things and some fun things,” King said. “I’ve just always been a teacher who has been more concerned about the kids; it wasn’t like a fortune and glory type position for me. … I’ve just always wanted the kids to be good musicians, good people and good citizens and help them love music as much as I do.”

Saying thanks

Gilliam, a rising junior, joined the band in fifth grade and has learned under King his entire band career. Though he and other students were originally planning a party to celebrate King’s years at Rye Cove, the COVID-19 pandemic required them to alter their plans. Thus, the idea for a virtual musical tribute was born.

Students individually recorded parts for the tribute, and Gilliam compiled them all into one video, creating a complete performance. Students chose to perform “What a Wonderful World,” one of King’s favorite songs, for the tribute.

“She’s probably the greatest teacher I’ve ever had,” Gilliam said. “She’s not only just been a musical mentor, but she’s also helped me with leadership and countless things. I don’t think it’s going to be the same without her.”

The students shared the video with King via Zoom on her retirement day. While she knew saying goodbye would be difficult, she had no idea about the special tribute they had in store.

“My heart was filled with so many emotions,” King said. “Love, joy, happiness filled my heart and tears streamed from my eyes. I was so touched that my students took the time to do this for me. What an honor and blessing to be surrounded by so much love and appreciation.”

Moving on

While King said her decision to retire was a difficult one, she looks forward to making more fond memories outside the classroom. She and her husband plan to travel and enjoy spending time with each other and with their family.

When it comes to the future of the Rye Cove band program, King has high hopes for her most recent group of students and for all those to come. As they move forward, King hopes her students will remember her special saying: “Keep a smile on your face and a song in your heart.”

“My prayers for the future of the Rye Cove band is that they’ll just keep the success going,” King said. “The new director, I hope that will be somebody that will love the kids and music and shares my devotion that I’ve had for the band and the community. I hope students stay in band and continue to play, continue their love of music, and just continue that tradition of being the best band that they can be.”