Concert held memorializing music teacher

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The Combined Dollar Bay Alumni Choir performs at a concert honoring late Dollar Bay music teacher Paula McKaig, conducted by music teacher Susan Byykkonen and accompanied by Superintendent Christina Norland.

DOLLAR BAY — In 23 years as Dollar Bay-Tamarack City’s K-12 music teacher, Paula McKaig saw many students from kindergarten to graduation, instilling in them a lifelong love of music.

Saturday, many of them came back to remember her life the best way they could think of — with music.

Past students and colleagues played and shared memories at the first Paula McKaig Memorial Concert, held in Dollar Bay’s auditorium.

The concert was the idea of 2017 graduate Elizabeth Rogan.

“She touched my life in such a way that I felt like this needed to happen,” she said. “We needed to do something to honor her, and it didn’t feel right to do anything other than something musical.”

She reached out to Robb Strieter, a 2010 graduate who now teaches and performs music in Chicago. They, along with Dollar Bay K-12 music teacher Susan Byykkonen, organized the concert.

At the end of the concert, the room was renamed to honor McKaig, who died of cancer last October.

The current Dollar Bay High School band played. So did an alumni band and choir. Along with Dollar Bay alumni spanning several decades, musicians included other people McKaig had inspired, whether colleagues or people she’d given piano lessons.

Rogan and fellow 2017 graduate Taylor Busser sang Carrie Underwood’s “See You Again.” Both had been students of hers since kindgerarten, and remembered staying after school with her to practice the National Anthem.

“She wanted to sing it so badly together,” said Busser, now a junior at Michigan State University, where she performs music at a youth group. “She really was, especially personally for me, a foundation for music in all aspects, and even for acting in musicals. I didn’t even know I even enjoyed acting until she pushed me to pass limits.”

Part of Rogan’s desire to sing the National Anthem came from seeing her mother perform it with McKaig many times. When her mother got sick, McKaig brought chicken soup every week.

Rogan’s love of music came from her mother, she said. But the passion for it came from McKaig.

“I’m entering my third year of college and I’m still playing in the marching band, solely because

she made me love band so much,” said Rogan, who attends Brown University.

One of McKaig’s own songs, “I Won’t Say,” was performed by a quartet including Byykkonen; McKaig’s husband, Denny McKaig; retired Michigan Technological University professor Mike Irish; and performer and music instructor Bob Hiltunen.

Hiltunen, a 2000 Dollar Bay graduate, fondly recalled McKaig saying of his early trombone explorations, “It’s a really, really great what you’re playing, but try to play it with some music sometime.”

As he grew older, she let him switch to percussion.

“She had a way of noticing the desire,” Hiltunen said. “As a music educator now, I watch the kids and try to recognize that and add the same fuel to all those little fires.”

Saturday’s concert was free, but many people donated to the new scholarship fund set up in McKaig’s name to support music education. Ryan Watt, a music instructor with the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, presented a $500 donation from the Keweenaw Music Educators association.

Anyone interested in donating can drop them off at the superintendent’s office.

“I know there have been others who have been spurred by Paula and her love for music and want to go and study music in college, so we wanted to make that easier for them,” Superintendent Christina Norland said.

Rogan hopes to make the concert an annual event.

“I’m really glad so many people came, but I’m also not surprised because Paula touched so many people that I expected a lot of people to come out,” she said.