Dr. Richard Disharoon wasn’t just a teacher at ; he was an institution.
When Pikesville High opened its doors in 1964, Disharoon —or “Doc” as he was known to so many—entered as the school’s first choral music director. For the next 40 years, he taught hundreds of students and opened the eyes of many about how to include music in their lives.
The Pikesville High School concert choir was known and respected throughout the community and many students strived from the time they were in elementary schools for the opportunity to wear one of the group’s famed purple choir robes.
As the years passed, it was not unusual for students to follow their older siblings and eventually join their parents among those who joined the choir, which, along with concerts, performed at area malls, senior centers and children hospitals.
“That was one of the most rewarding parts of my career,” said Disharoon, 72. “To watch as different generations came through the doors of Pikesville with hopes of keeping the tradition going made me keep going to keep the program moving forward.”
The Day the Music Died
But, all of that changed in 2004 when Disharoon decided to retire. In the years that followed, interest in the choir slowly decreased before bottoming out in 2008 when the program was completely gone.
It was around this time that the Pikesville High School choir alumni association stepped up with hopes of reviving the once-proud program. The group, which was founded in 1991, performed at the school’s winter concert along with some recruitment shows at Pikesville Middle School to help revive interest in choral music in the area.
Disharoon said watching what he had spent decades building slowly go away was extremely difficult. He added despite the urging of the administration to continue with the alumni choir at the time, Disharoon said he felt he had to remain on the sidelines.
“I felt in the best long-term interest of the program I had to stay away,” Disharoon said. “There were still students I taught at the school and some of them had parents in the alumni choir. I didn’t want to get in the way of someone else that was trying to establish themselves at the school.”
On the Comeback Trail
In the years since the choir program folded, Pikesville High has slowly taken steps to rebuild it. Current choir teacher Russell Gartner has been with the school part-time for three years and is expected to be a full-time instructor at the school next year, Disharoon said.
Disharoon added that he has worked with Gartner and even returned to the school on several occasions to work with the current students.
“I’m just trying to reinforce what he is teaching the students,” Disharoon said. “It’s been nice seeing the concert choir come back and Russell has the energy needed to move it forward.”
Back to the Future
While the concert choir is moving forward, Pikesville High choir alumni will have a chance Sunday to reflect on the past as the school is hosting a reunion for past members of the group.
Disharoon said at least 60 members have pledged to be there with close to 20 others hoping to attend. The event, set for 3-7 p.m. in the school auditorium, will offer past members a chance to reconnect with each other and with Disharoon.
There will even be a chance to sing, including a performance of “Hallelujah, Amen,” a staple song for decades of the choir under Disharoon.
Many Pikesville alumni, whether they can make the reunion or not, have said they are glad to see the choir back at the school and have never forgotten the impact the group and Disharoon had on their lives.
Rachael Lea Leventhal is now a married mother of two and an attorney in Washington, D.C. But, the 1997 Pikesville High graduate said music is still a big part of her life.
Lenventhal said she met her husband in a choir in college and they later joined a semiprofessional choir.
“Almost all of the friends I maintain from high school, even 15 years after graduation, were in choir with me,” she said. “They were the only ones who really knew me, and liked me anyway.
“Doc instilled a love of music in me that I passed on to my children; we make music, and especially harmonization, a constant part of our home."
Jaclyn Halpern Bates, a 1996 Pikesville High graduate, said being part of the choir was like being a part of a family. She called Disharoon a father figure that so many students looked up to through his decades at the school.
"Doc just had so much passion for music and for his students," she said. "The impact we had on the community by visiting places like hospitals and senior centers was unbelievable. Most of the friends I've kept up with since high school are those I met in choir."
Donald Engel, a 1996 Pikesville High graduate, said the school’s choir alumni have always been some of the biggest advocates for the school. Also a former choir member, Engel said he hopes to reach out to other members on Sunday as he works on establishing an active Pikesville High School Alumni Association.
“The choir was a source of pride at Pikesville for so many decades,” Engel said. “Being a part of it was something so many students wanted to be a part of and Dr. Disharoon was a big reason for that.
"This reunion could go a long way toward not only jump starting the choir, but build a true alumni association that could be a benefit to the school for years to come.”
Were you a member of the Pikesville High concert choir? What were some of your favorite memories? Please tell us in the comments section below and feel free to post any photos you may have from your years with the group.