The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The Wizard of Oz: Interviews with the Cast
Olivia Abbott and Aniyah NelsonApril 7, 2024

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Ms. Skizas Receives a Harmonious Welcome Back

Source: Ms. Wallace

When I first met Stephanie Skizas, I was very glad I was not wearing jeans. During a rehearsal for the combined choir concert with Glenbard South High School and my ensemble from Glen Crest Middle School, she poked fun at a row of shy baritones because “unless you have a ring in there, you need to get your hands out of your pockets!” The room filled with laughter, which Skizas soon channeled into glorious song. I was awestruck. With a cheeky grin, a bejeweled outfit and what seemed to be some kind of enchantment, she could command any auditorium.

Skizas was South’s choir director for 32 years, from 1983 to 2016. During the two weeks leading up to this year’s winter break, Skizas filled in for Ms. Hutchinson, South’s usual choir teacher, who was on maternity leave.

I sat down with Skizas on December 6, the day before South’s Holiday Concert. I left the music hallway an hour later with a renewed adoration for music and hopes of joining an avant garde choir in an Austrian castle.

Skizas came to know the magic of music at a young age. Her uncle, who worked for a record company, provided her with her first window into the joy of song. “He would bring records to us,” she reminisced. “I would listen to these records and I remember dancing around the basement.”

Source: Ms. Wallace

Her passion for choral singing, in particular, stemmed from her high school years. As a freshman, she was mesmerized by the work of her upperclassmen peers at Glenbrook North and South High School. In that moment, she discovered the true power of music, which she believes in to this day. “There’s a beauty there that we’re missing in our regular world…that raises us to truly be the highest level of mankind we possibly can be,” she enthused. “I think it helps us explore a part of ourselves which we may not be comfortable with, which we may not know is there. It opens up your heart and it pushes us out of our comfort zones.” 

Skizas attended the University of Illinois, where she obtained both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. She then attended Northwestern University to complete her post-master’s work.

Ms. Skizas’ affinity for music has inspired singers all around. As a member of an ensemble called the Ambassador of the Arts, she once spent three months living in an Austrian castle, singing for dignitaries while adorned in regal gowns. Later on, she directed a men’s choir in the Cook County Jail, where she introduced a jaded group of baritones to the art of singing and, in tandem, the art of vulnerability.

Source: Ms. Wallace

Skizas’ transition from singing to directing led her into a 35-year-long career as a choir teacher at Bloom Trail and Glenbard South High School, and her years spent as a singer offered her valuable insight into the intricacies of choral performance. “Listening to music, I felt the music a certain way, but I didn’t always hear it performed like that,” she explained. “I wanted so much for everybody in the whole world to feel everything I was feeling.” 

This dream took her back to high school because of what she believes to be the unique potential of high school singers: an instantaneous connection between creatives. “You can see it in somebody’s eyes,” Skizas said. “Teaching high school has always been my favorite,” she confessed. 

 Often seen congregating with the student body, cheering on her students at their other extracurricular events or playing Horse at an open gym, Skizas took a personable approach to teaching as well as recruiting students into the fine arts. One year, to find students who could fill the barricade scene of South’s production of “Les Miserables,” Skizas convinced the entire football team to audition. “I told them I had fake blood! They were thrilled,” Skizas chimed, the memory still bringing a glint to her eye. Before long, these athletes-turned-thespians were drawn to choir, as well. “Pretty soon, I wasn’t even doing anything. They started to experience the music, and that sells itself,” Skizas said. “You start building a bond with people, and, before you know it, they’re joining.”

This contagious vivacity is one of Skizas’ many trademarks, but one for which she refuses to take credit. “The class brings it to me,” she exclaimed. “It’s like waking up [on] Christmas morning every day! Your dreams keep coming true. I get to fall in love [with music] all over again.”

Although she had not returned to South since her retirement, the news of Skizas’ homecoming was met with boisterous cheers from students who knew of her legacy. “I felt welcome from the moment I stepped in the door,” Skizas recalled. “Everybody was so willing to try things.”

Skizas’ two-week return was marked by an exchange of ideas. Just as South students such as Concert Choir member Grace Rolston enjoyed learning Skizas’ preferred vocal warm-up exercises, Skizas frequently asked singers to teach her their own favorites. More often than not, Skizas vowed to implement those tools into her future teachings as a blend of South’s musical past and present.

“Getting to work with Ms. Skizas was an amazing opportunity that taught me a lot as a singer,” said Andrew Lullo, a member of Mixed Choir. “The baritone section in my choir was small…and because of this, we struggled on many things. Ms. Skizas didn’t let small mistakes slide, and made us work to improve.” Lullo attributed his section’s success to the new, energizing exercises Skizas integrated into his choir’s daily routine. “By the time the concert came, she was telling us to be less powerful, not more,” Lullo remarked.

During her spare time in retirement, Skizas directs many local choral festivals and contests. “A lot of what I’m doing in my retirement is exploring new things,” she elaborated, expressing an eagerness to experience all that life has to offer. “Every time I get an opportunity to teach, I get to bring all the new things I have learned into my teaching.” 

Even after eight years away, leaving South again after these two weeks was not any easier. “The day I retired, I left here loving my job. It’s hard to leave relationships, and that’s the hardest part,” Skizas admitted. 

Current Concert Choir singers Ella Larramore and Danielle Allaway can confirm that saying goodbye was no easy feat thanks to Skizas’ warmth. “The relationships she created with students in two weeks could last a lifetime. It was such an honor to be taught [by her],” Larramore gushed. Allaway added on, “She is extremely loving and kind. More than anything, she absolutely loves what she does.”

Skizas’ last day at South was filled with hugs and well wishes as students and staff members alike basked in the glow of her gratitude. “I’m excited to watch everybody grow beyond, and so humbled by the love I’ve felt in this short time…how much I’ve learned,” Skizas said. “I feel like we’ve shared something. I get to take that gift with me,” she concluded with a knowing smile.

Skizas trained all three levels of Glenbard South choir in preparation for their Holiday Concert on December 7.  As students and alumni alike sang “Hallelujah” to conclude the night, it sounded just like a serenade for the woman who made it all possible.

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About the Contributor
Haley Wong
Haley Wong, Editor in Chief
My name is Haley Wong and I am one of the Editors in Chief this year! When I’m not in the trenches of my junior year coursework, I love to read, write, make way too many Spotify playlists and spend endless hours on Pinterest.

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