With her back to the crowd and her eyes locked on her students, Jill Rinkel raised her arms to direct her Mahomet-Seymour High School choral students one more time after more than 30 years of teaching.
"I loved the whole thing," Rinkel said.
The high school and combined seventh- and eighth-grade choirs gathered on the risers for their semester-end performance at the May 10 Pops concert, where students sang popular works such as "Another Day of Sun" from "La La Land" and "Do You Hear the People Sing" from "Les Miserables."
"I allow them some input with the selections," said Nicole Kuglich, the M-S Junior High chorus director.
More than 30 show choir dancers impressed the crowd alongside the junior high choral performers with their well-orchestrated choreography to the beat of "The Greatest Show," "You Will Be Found" and "Another Day of Sun."
Choreographer Maggie Kinnamon assisted the performances, but a few students even choreographed some of the moves.
"One of the things I like about the Pops concert is it embraces many talents," Kuglich said. "There were a number of students playing a number of instruments. We had a violinist and a ukulele. It's cool that they put that out in front of an audience."
The high school students stuck with what Rinkel termed "riser choreography," where the singers utilized movements such as beginning a piece with their heads facing down or emphasizing a heightened moment in the piece with jazz hands.
"You're limited with what you can do on the risers," Rinkel joked. "I try to make it simple so they can all learn to do it, and it's effective when they get it all together."
The spring concert took an emotional turn after the high school men's chorus and combined choirs completed their final numbers provided in the evening's program.
Kuglich presented Rinkel with a framed copy of the song "Hope Never Stops" by Josh Sparkman, which was dedicated to the beloved instructor for her 37 years of teaching. Rinkel then sat in a chair facing her students while they sang her the inspirational melody.
"It was beautiful," Rinkel said.
The students practiced in secret so the big reveal would be a surprise to her.
"I was really impressed with the students' commitment to this, because they had to come in and learn this in separate, secret rehearsals," Kuglich said. "We rehearsed it at the junior high music room just in case."
Kuglich said she thought of the idea at the beginning of the school year when she thought of how best to honor Rinkel for her years of dedicated service to M-S.
"I couldn't believe that they took the time to learn a song just for me," Rinkel said. "It was really special and touching, and I will always treasure it."
Senior Lauren Gilonske also presented Rinkel with a framed quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton."
"Lin-Manuel Miranda said this: 'Legacy. What is a legacy? It's planting seeds in a garden that you will never get to see,'" she read. "Rinkel, you have left your legacy on this school, and whether you see it or not, you planted the seeds in all of us and you have touched so many hearts and lives and we will forever be grateful for you."
The retiring music teacher was able to see a few of those seeds she planted as M-S alumni returned to the gymnasium floor for one last song, "How Do We Say Goodbye?" by Mark Brymer.
Alumna Kaytlin Workman, class of 2012, said the song is a M-S tradition and one that she enjoyed partaking in during Thursday's concert. Each spring, students invite alumni to join them in singing the farewell tune as the choir members bid farewell to another class of seniors. Year after year, the final number speaks to the strength of the M-S choral community.
"You get to see the people that you left with and just come together in this thing that's kind of a tradition that past, present and future Mahomet-Seymour graduates will all know," Workman said.
While Rinkel took part in her last sacred M-S tradition, many feel her legacy will live on far past the gymnasium.
Robert Coyle had Rinkel from 1998 through 2000 at Lincoln Trail and recalled her being "cheery" and "full of energy."
"She deserves a lifetime achievement award for putting up (with) kids playing their recorders year after year," Coyle joked. "Thanks for being a great teacher."
A 2004 M-S alumnus, Brady Greene, said Rinkel had a way of making each student feel included.
"I can't imagine having a better music teacher," Greene said.
Workman said she had Rinkel from fifth grade through her senior year and attributed the instructor's efforts for her love of music.
"When I went away for college, one of the main things I was looking for was a good choir because I couldn't imagine not being in choir," Workman said. "Once I graduated college, I looked around for a good church choir, because it's something she inspired all of us to love and cherish."
Years before she ever stood before her first class, Rinkel was a student herself at Illinois State University, where she intended to study to become a medical technician.
"My high school choral director said, 'Oh no, you have to audition for the concert choir,' and I thought I'd audition and be done," Rinkel explained.
She became one of the three freshman to make the top choir.
"I got sucked into music, and I liked it," she said. "I want my students to have these memories that I'm having now. I took piano lessons and was good at music theory. As a teacher, you want to share those experiences with your students as well."
Rinkel hopes to provide private lessons to students during her retirement out of her home.
"They are certainly welcome to contact me," she said. "I really do enjoy working one on one with different students."
Before she sets up shop, Rinkel plans to take a well-deserved beach vacation next month.
"I feel like I just need some downtime," she said.
More than anything, Rinkel hopes students, teachers and the M-S community realize how much they have meant to her.
"This has been a fabulous community and school district to work in. I've enjoyed it," Rinkel said. "I've had 34 years at M-S and three years before that (at Crest Hill and Homer schools). It's a wonderful community with wonderful parents who supported us. The students are great and there is nowhere else I would have rather taught my 34 years. It's a supporting community, and the parents are great. I have no complaints."