Former students remember beloved Ashland music teacher
ASHLAND, Maine — When Larry Hall, a retired music teacher for Ashland District School, passed away on Saturday, June 23, after a brief illness, he left behind an enduring legacy of music, dedication, hard work and happiness for the students, friends, family and community members who knew him.
Hall taught music at Ashland District School from 1962 to 1995 and inspired over 1,000 students who played in the school’s band during that time. One of those former students is Chris Morton, the owner of King Morton’s Hall of Music — also known as KMH Music — in Presque Isle. Morton first met Hall when he was 4 years old and later played percussion for the school band.
Although Hall officially retired when Morton was in 8th grade, he still taught part time throughout Morton’s high school years. Morton, who graduated from Ashland District School in 1999, remembers Hall as someone who believed that music was for everyone and made an effort to share his enthusiasm and passion with them.
“He was the type of guy who would notice a kid playing a borrowed guitar, then give that kid a guitar of their own and teach them how to play,” Morton said, two weeks after Hall’s death. “He spent basically all hours of the day teaching students in class and giving them private lessons after school.”
Morton’s relationship with Hall is one that grew into a deep friendship throughout much of his young adulthood. In 2001, Morton — then an English major at the University of Maine at Presque Isle — became a part time employee at Aroostook Music, a music store owned and operated by Northern Kingdom Music for which Hall was the manager. Morton later became full time and later re-opened the store as KMH Music after Northern Kingdom Music went out of business in 2012.
At the store, Hall, Morton and Randy King, a local guitar player and employee, became like a “family,” with Hall being their loving “patriarch,” according to Morton. He recalls how Hall hated personal recognition, even after officials at Ashland District School renamed the auditorium the Larry Hall Performing Arts Center in 2015 and when the three business owners incorporated their last names into the store’s name.
“Larry had wanted to call the store North Star to symbolize where we’re located, but Randy and I thought that it would be cool to have all three of our names in the business forever,” Morton said. “Larry grudgingly said ‘OK,’ but I know he liked the name because he would answer the phone and say, ‘This is the H in KMH Music.’”
Hall was a teacher known for loving a variety of music from classical to bluegrass to contemporary pop and rock. Morton recalled a humorous story involving a “Best of ABBA” CD that Hall played in the music store repeatedly, much to Morton’s displeasure.
“I can’t stand ABBA and after three months I tried to hide the CD, but it always made its way back to the CD player,” Morton said. “Then after Northern Kingdom Music went out of business we cleaned out the store and I made sure that the ‘Best of ABBA’ CD was ‘misplaced’ in a trash can at the rest stop in Medway after I had jumped up and down on it a few times.”
Today, Morton thinks that Hall likely suspected him of CD theft and made sure to give him some subtle payback during a rehearsal for Aroostook River Voices, a vocal group that both men were part of.
“Mr. Hall said something along the lines of, ‘Guess what song we’re going to do? I can’t wait for you to hear this,’” Morton said. “And the band started to play ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA. We rehearsed that song week after week. I’m pretty sure he did that on purpose.”
Larry Boulier of Ashland is a 1990 graduate of Ashland District School and also studied music under Hall from the age of 4 until he left high school. Boulier played trumpet in the school band and remembers how Hall’s “big toothy grin” flashed every time he would see his students play. He remembers Hall as a teacher who loved all his students and wanted them all to know the joy that music could bring them.
“Larry would go into the elementary classrooms and play guitar because he wanted kids to be exposed to music at an early age,” Boulier said. “I remember when I was in band during my sophomore year there were 160 students in the entire school and 120 of them were in the band.”
The friendships that Boulier formed with fellow bandmates and Hall are what he considers to be the best experiences of his high school music career. Aside from sports competitions and school events, the band also played during community parades and concerts and one year hosted a concert for patients at the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Even though Boulier has not been a member of bands since his high school days, he still has a great love for music thanks to Hall. After graduating, he returned to Ashland District School many times to play in the band’s brass section during special events, including the rededication of the bandstand in Ashland. But regardless of how many years went by, Boulier said Hall still took great joy in seeing him and catching up on what he and his classmates were doing.
“Every time Mr. Hall and I saw each other again we’d talk for at least 10 minutes and he’d always ask what I was up to,” Boulier said. “I haven’t played an instrument in years, but it’s because of Mr. Hall that I love music to this day.”
Throughout his life, Hall immersed himself in music and played and sung in local bands such as Aroostook River Voices, Star City Syndicate, the UMPI Community Band, the Northern Maine Chamber Orchestra and the Justfolks Singers. But Boulier thinks that Halls dedication to students is what will keep his legacy alive in Ashland.
“He was someone who took the time to help all students and saw the potential they had, even when they thought they couldn’t achieve something,” Boulier said.