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April 11, 2014

Hail to the music man

'Mr. Wilke's Opus,' planned to salute Peru music teacher

PERU — The 1964 World’s Fair was an exhilarating milestone for Cheryl Woodard, a sophomore and trumpeter in the Peru High School Marching Band.

“I marched the opening day of the World’s Fair in New York City,” said the Lake Placid resident, now Cheryl Breen-Randall.

“It was my first time in New York City. It was very exciting to go to the city. We stayed in a hotel. We marched in the parade in front of President Lyndon B. Johnson only four or five months after Kennedy had been assassinated.”

Then Peru High School music teacher Lynn Wilke led the Indians on forays far and wide, musically and geographically, during his 33-year tenure at the school. His half-time shows were legendary; the one with live chickens, infamous.

At Peru, music and choral students performed more than 20 musicals and operettas under his direction. The first was Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” accompanied by pianist and faculty member Joann Coffey, who became Lynn's first wife.

INSPIRED BY FACEBOOK POSTS

To honor the Wilkes for their dedication and many contributions to the Peru community, former students like Cheryl, a trumpeter, pay homage to the Wilkes in “Mr. Wilke’s Opus” at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 12, in the school's auditorium.

“Being in band gives you an opportunity to get a taste of the arts ... Most kids don’t have that opportunity unless they have those kind of programs in school,” Cheryl said.

“Certainly, I wouldn’t have been exposed to those types of programs without that being offered in school. I learned to read music and sing and play an instrument. Those things stay with you a lifetime.”

The catalyst for the community concert was Cheryl’s Facebook page, “You know you're from Peru if ….”

There was much banter — 500 comments — about Lynn. One thing led to another until the idea of the community concert was born.

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