An open letter to George Weigle:

Thanks to Dan Woog's "06880" blog, I learned that (March 13) is your 86th birthday.

I wanted to use this occasion to tell you how you completely changed my life.

I entered Staples High School as a 10th grader in 1976, back in the days when Staples was a three-year school. Middle school had been for me -- as for so many adolescents -- a less-than-stellar experience.

When I got to Staples, the first thing I did was join the sophomore chorus. Let me tell you, Mr. Weigle, your reputation preceded you. Everyone talked about how strict you were, how exacting, how intolerant of lateness, rudeness, or (as you so memorably put it) "communicating" with friends during rehearsals.

As it turned out, all of these things were true, and they were exactly what made you such an outstanding teacher and director. You did not suffer fools gladly, and we were all the better for it. Your standards were ridiculously high -- but only because you knew we could reach them, if only we would try.

And we did try, and try harder, because of you. Your musicianship, your passion, your love for the material... all of this was absorbed by us, and we all wanted to make you proud.

Junior year, I joined the choir and senior year, Orphenians. Your demands became even more rigorous, and we did our best to rise to the task. You insisted we learn to read more complicated music, to blend better with our fellow voice parts, to stand up straight, to breathe in the right places, and most importantly, to watch you. If our eyes were not on you, believe me, we heard about it.

I'm sure you've heard these stories so many times they seem cliche by now. But: I remember the hush in the auditorium as we entered with our candles to begin "Sing We Noel." I remember the sheer joy of singing the "Hallelujah" chorus, year after year. I still remember all the words to the rousing gospel song (and Orphenians anthem) "Ride the Chariot." These moments have stayed with me since graduating from Staples in 1979, and I have no doubt they will be with me forever.

Thank you, Mr. Weigle, for your high standards, your impeccable musical taste, your perfectionism and -- most importantly -- your faith in us, that we could rise to the impossibly high expectations you set. You changed hundreds of lives for good.

Happy birthday.

Abby Margolis Newman

Mill Valley, Calif.