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Signing off at St. Mary's Music teacher for 23 years stages her last show

The music was clear to a few of the pupils, but it sounded muffled to many others. Some only felt the vibrations.

The annual music show at Buffalo's St. Mary's School for the Deaf was a huge hit, as about 50 elementary grade pupils signed, danced, clapped and played air guitar to recorded music ranging from "Itsy Bitsy Spider Rap" to "Blue Suede Shoes."

The music show, always a highlight of the school year, had an even more profound meaning Friday because Mary Lou Scott, who has directed the event for 23 years, is retiring as St. Mary's music teacher in June.

After the show, Scott accepted hugs and best wishes from parents, posed for photos with pupils and reflected on a philosophy that built her a reputation for enthusiasm, energy and kindness.

"I love music to begin with, and I want to share that with the kids," Scott said.

In addition, Friday's performance was dedicated to Norma L. Wittman, a longtime St. Mary's teacher and volunteer who died last December.

Music classes for the deaf seem puzzling to people with full hearing. But many hearing impaired people can hear music at some level, and even profoundly deaf people can enjoy the beat and rhythm of music.

Scott, whose mother and aunt also were teachers of the deaf, plays instruments for her pupils with one hand and signs with the other.

For profoundly deaf students, she writes out lyrics so they can match them to the vibrations they feel.

Scott also uses music to reinforce pitch, vocabulary, auditory skills and poise before an audience.

"Some of them just love it," she said. "Others are a little shy to begin with, and it takes a little time for them to come around."

Scott's attention to detail was on display Friday.

The students wore clever and intricate outfits -- the Blues Brothers included -- and beamed as they received one ovation after another from their families and teachers.

Water bubbles filled the stage during the "Under the Sea" segment, and balloons cascaded from the balcony during a rocking version of "Celebrate," the finale.

"Music is a great equalizer for our kids," said Patty Velacci, St. Mary's principal. "They can do what their hearing friends are doing."

Joshua Meyers, a fifth-grader, will be sorry to see Scott go.

"She always tells us to have fun," said Joshua, who performed in Friday's finale and admits to dancing in the hallway and singing in the shower.

The spotlight and big crowd on Friday only added to that happy feeling.

"I was a little bit nervous, but you get up on stage and get comfortable and you're fine," Joshua said.

Friday's performance was in the school auditorium, but the St. Mary's kids also hit the road regularly to sign the national anthem at Bills, Sabres and Bisons games, and perform at schools, nursing homes and senior centers. They also perform each year with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Scott said bittersweet thoughts slipped into her mind during the show. "I was so happy to see the kids on stage and performing, but I was sad it was my last one," she said.

But Scott kept her emotions in check, even when she was called to the stage to receive a bouquet of flowers. "I'm proud of all of you," she said. "Thank you so much for your help."

Then, using sign language that everyone can understand, she gave the crowd a big thumbs up.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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