Something of a Mr. Holland's Opus moment occurred at Westport Sunrise Rotary's meeting on Friday.

Following a warm introduction by John Franklin, a long-time leader in Westport's arts community, Alice Lipson -- surrounded by parents of her former students -- shared memories from her career as a music teacher.

Lipson, who just retired as as director of choral music at Staples High School, reminded those gathered what community is all about.

She began by telling the group, "It's about the music." Lipson then went on to discuss her career and some of the students who made it memorable. She has the rare ability to remember names, faces and contributions of her students, whether from the class of 2009 or 1989.

"How special it has been to work with your kids," Lipson said.

She recalled her start 35 years ago, fresh out of Hartt School of Music, as a music teacher at Long Lots Junior High -- the one level she didn't want to teach. She ignored a mentor's advice, smiled at her students, "built relationships of mutual respect ... and learned that kids will do anything if you just believe in them." She ended up thoroughly enjoying those years.

In 1988 Lipson started "a new adventure" when she moved to Staples to take over Staples' Orphenians choral ensemble from its founder and director, Dr. George Weigle. For the last 21 years she has made a difference -- not only with Orphenians, but for every music student at Staples and beyond. Her outstanding contribution to the community was recognized a few years ago when Sunrise Rotary honored her with its Paul Harris Award.

In addition to reflecting on her own career, Lipson had warm words for Justin Paul and Ryan O'Neill and her successor, Justin Miller (the writer has a soft spot for these three because they were Staples students when his own children were there), among others.

Sunrise has a tradition of Happy Dollars so anyone present can put a dollar in a hat and offer a wish, a thank you, even a sad note for someone or something they wish to share. Alice's husband, Mark, gave a Happy Dollar as a thank you for getting his wife back.

As a couple, they have entertained many people with their music. Now, when Lipson gets her voice back -- after 35 years of teaching music, she said, "The thing I miss the most is my voice ... tenor is not my normal range." -- they will once again collaborate.

"Every single person should be using their voice," she said.

-- Roy Fuchs is a member of Westport Sunrise Rotary.