An exceptional teacher can change the lives of thousands of students and shape a community.
Gary Frame, 75, who taught choral music in the Salem-Keizer School District during 1963-1994, changed students, colleagues, the district and even the state. His impact has been great in the Mid-Valley and beyond.
Karl Raschkes served as the district’s music supervisor during the last decade of Frame’s career. He observed Frame in the classroom and the concert hall.
“He set the standard for high school choral music for the whole state and possibly the Northwest,” Raschkes said. “Kids respected him for not only his music skills but also his character, ethics, sincerity and honesty in caring for them. He was respected as one of the best high school choir directors in the nation.”
Frame taught at South Salem High School during 1963-1975. For the first couple of years, he also taught at Leslie Middle School. He moved to Sprague High School in 1975, when the school was in its infancy, and built Sprague’s choral program until his retirement in 1994.
South and Sprague have dominated the Oregon School Activities Association Music State Championships since its inception nearly three decades ago. Sprague’s music program has won five Grammys.
How did Frame lay the foundation for these successful programs? David Brown, Sprague’s director of choirs, pinpointed an element essential to Frame’s teaching.
“It’s about expectation. When an individual comes into a music program, a lot of what follows is based upon the expectations that are initiated with that individual,” Brown said. “Gary saw very clearly what high school kids could accomplish, and he set that expectation very high, so that expectation still filters through today. It’s virtually impossible to move a program to this level where this expectation doesn’t exist.”
High expectations in the classroom mean nothing if a teacher is unable to lead students to realize them.
Karen (West) Foster, Sprague class of 1983, is a private voice teacher and public speaker in Kingston, Washington. Something Frame said still motivates her today: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” That’s also how he taught.
“Mr. Frame never succumbed to gerbil-wheel teaching. He brought exciting energy to class every day,” Foster said. His "commitment to excellence every day inspired me to excel musically but, more importantly, set a tangible example for how to live life with energy, enthusiasm and excellence.”
Tangibility was key to Frame’s teaching. He didn’t just hold students to high standards and goals; he also guided them to achieve them. Patti Papworth, a private music teacher in Salem who graduated from Sprague in 1991, recalled how Frame worked through summer vacation helping students learn the difficult score for Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods.”
“It’s amazing what happens to young kids when they have an adult who completely believes in them like Gary did,” Papworth said.
It was evident to Frame's students that he believed in them. When asked about his teaching, Frame said his love of music and his deep enjoyment of working with students were essential.
“I worked extra time to make things happen. The really good teachers always put in more time than the eight-hour day,” Frame said.
Raschkes said Frame also welcomed students of all abilities.
“He worked on the success of every student in his ensemble. He would adjust his teaching to the needs of the student, always taking them from the level where they were to the next,” Raschkes said.
Late in his high school career, David W. Kuhns Sr., a retired sergeant general in the Army, met Frame.
“Mr. Frame took more interest in me, as an individual, than any other teacher I had. And that was how he treated all his students. I think every student in choir thought he or she had a special relationship with Mr. Frame,” said Kuhns, who graduated from South in 1968. “Being part of a performing organization and having to sing in front of a large class almost daily did worlds for my self-confidence.”
Johanna Kent, Sprague class of 1989, is a performer in Los Angeles. One thing that struck her about Frame’s teaching was that he allowed students to see his humanity.
“One day in choir, he was conducting and all of a sudden stopped, looked at the sleeve of his shirt and pulled out a dryer sheet,” Kent said. “It sounds so simple, but his willingness to not only laugh at himself but share that laughter with us was so indicative of the quality of human that he was.”
Frame was born and raised in Salem. He graduated from North Salem in 1958. His mother was a salesclerk at Sears. His father was a part-time farmer and worked in the roofing business.
“My parents were not particularly musical,” Frame said. “My sister was kind of tone-deaf. My parents didn’t sing very well. I was kind of an anomaly out of this family.”
When Frame was in first grade, his parents recognized his interest in piano and put him in lessons.
“I had a great beginning piano teacher,” Frame said. “I always knew her as Mrs. Taylor.”
Frame continued lessons and began to excel. When he was in eighth grade, his parents had the opportunity to buy a baby grand piano.
“Our house was so small, it took up most of the front room. They probably couldn’t afford to buy any kind of piano like that, but they did. They paid it off in time,” Frame said.
The piano sits in Frame’s living room today.
While a student at North Salem, Frame realized he wanted to be a music teacher. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Willamette University in 1962 and a master’s from the University of Oregon in 1968. He taught for one year at Medford High School before taking the choral job at South Salem.
While in choir at Willamette, Frame met his wife of 52 years, Joyce, who had a career as a minister. They have two daughters and three grandchildren, who are all musical.
After retiring from Salem-Keizer, Frame worked as an adjunct professor at Oregon State University and then George Fox University before retiring completely this year. He and Joyce sing in the choir at First Christian Church.
“Being on the other side of what I call ‘the podium’ is always good for choir directors,” Frame said.
Watching and learning from other directors was essential to his teaching.
“You pick up ideas,” Frame said. “Going beyond the classroom and helping other teachers across the state has been valuable for me.”
Frame inspired a generation of educators and musicians. His students have performed professionally across the nation.
Rebecca Stone-Hardiman, of Aurora, graduated from Sprague in 1983.
“Because of Mr. Frame, I am a successful jazz vocalist today,” Stone-Hardiman said. “When he believed I could make it, then I believed I could. And I did.”
Frame remembers Stone-Haridman as a somewhat shy and nervous girl who sat in his freshman choir without drawing attention to herself, until she auditioned for a solo at the end of the school year and knocked his socks off.
Frame said one thrill of teaching was watching students grow. Today, many of his former students share that joy.
Including the principals of Stayton High School and Jefferson Middle School and the choir director of Central High School, Frame has inspired a generation of educators in the Mid-Willamette Valley.
When Steve Phillips was a sophomore at Sprague High School in the mid-'80s, a simple choir rehearsal changed the course of his life. After learning “The Old Irish Blessing” from Frame, something in Phillips clicked.
“The melody and lyrics had touched me so greatly, taught in a powerful manner through Mr. Frame, and I knew,” Phillips said. “I wanted to someday give the gift of tapping into the human soul to others, which Mr. Frame had given to me.”
Phillips has been teaching music at Auburn Elementary School for 19 years.
“I feel Mr. Frame’s spirit with me every day when I’m teaching,” Phillips said.
Jim Taylor, director of choirs at McNary High School, remembers his eighth-grade audition in 1983 for Frame’s choirs.
“He asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told him, ‘You,’” Taylor said. “He began to foster and encourage all the things I needed to learn to be successful in college so that I could begin and continue on the path to becoming an educator.”
Looking back on his accomplishments, Frame said he’s proud of his students.
“I hope the majority of the students really felt positive about their experience in the choir. … That I had some part in making music a really viable part of their life whether they chose to go into it as a profession,” Frame said. “Part of the thrill of a student’s memory of being involved in music has to be a certain time when they felt they really achieved something outstanding.”
Framework, Sprague High School’s vocal jazz ensemble, is named after Gary Frame.
“I didn’t want the name Framework. I resisted for two years,” Frame said. “I was embarrassed. I didn’t want my name to be part of the group. … Eventually, they wore me out. They were great students, and I said, ‘Oh the heck with it. All right.’
“I’m always amazed that the name is still there. It wouldn’t bother me if it changed, but I just felt honored that they continued it on.”