Eagle Lake music teacher’s career ends on a high note | Local News


MANKATO — There wasn’t a dry eye in the house Friday afternoon as Eagle Lake Elementary School fourth and fifth graders took their audience on a trip down memory lane to celebrate their music teacher.

Before musicals took a four-year pause due the pandemic, the older kids would usually put on a show this time of year.

But, as they came back this year ahead of music teacher Leah Ries’ retirement, their showcase looked a little different.

Friday’s packed audience heard songs from The Sound of Music, Aladdin, The Lion King and more, all of which hold a special place in Ries’ heart because they were selected from musicals she’s directed during her 17 years at the school.

Ries was misty-eyed as she took the stage one last time for her final bow.

“I’m excited for retirement and what that’s going to look like, but after a performance like today, it’s a little bit of mixed emotions, you know the bittersweet they all talk about, because this is part of why I do what I do,” she said.

Leah Ries retirement 4

Leah Ries addresses the families of her choir students after one of her final concerts Friday at Eagle Lake Elementary School.

Ries has taught music for the vast majority of her 17 years at Eagle Lake, but she’s been working at the district for 25. In total, she’s been teaching for 40.

The music teacher said putting on the shows have been some of her favorite parts of her career.

“Watching the kids go from not knowing what it’s all about to in the performance, they realize it’s teamwork and fourth and fifth grade working together. It takes all of them in everything that they’re doing to make it work,” she said.

Ries said she enjoys the spark she sees in kids when they do something they haven’t done before.

“One of my plans, what I’ve always done is that every child has a costume of some kind. Every child is on stage at some point. It really means a lot to be able to have them all be able to experience that again,” she said.

Her kids rehearsed in music class and auditioned for the performance.

Students like fifth grader Ryder Baumgartner who played Aladdin, got to sing in front of an audience for the first time.

“It was definitely nerve wracking when she told me I was going to be Aladdin, but once I got on stage, it really wasn’t that bad,” he said.

Fifth grader Genesis Garnica said Ries was great in helping her get into character.

While she’s been on stage before, she hasn’t done anything like this; she played Zazu from The Lion King.

“When you first got that character, when I first told you that you were going to be Zazu, what was your thought? Were you really excited about it yet?” Ries asked Garnica. “A little hesitant, weren’t you?”

“Then she started developing her character.”

Garnica said she enjoyed expressing some attitude with her character and said that Ries helped her in rehearsal.

“Kind of encouraging me, saying, ‘Oh, you don’t need to do this too much, you kind of have to express how you’re actually saying this part and that part,’” she said.

Leah Ries retirement 2

Eagle Lake Elementary choir teacher Leah Ries takes photos of her students with other parents after one of her final concerts Friday.

Fellow Mankato district staff and parents like Mary Jo Tischler said they’ll miss having Ries as their kids’ music teacher.

Tischler said she’s fortunate her daughter has been able to have the opportunity to be in the school’s music program.

“She is really amazing. She brings all kinds of different things to the kids and experiences in different ways. She’s just awesome and is going to be greatly missed,” she said.

Ries will continue working as an artistic director for the Mankato Children’s Chorus after retirement.

She said it’s the spark and seeing where kids go that she’ll miss the most.

“Seeing that light start in kids. The joy of music, the interest in performing, being on stage, singing for the first time,” she said.

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