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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 15, 2010

Tobler, a teacher of note, leaves legacy of learning

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Lydia Tobler’s last note sounded on April 7.  It was an uncharacteristically sad one for the ever-bright music teacher who died at the age of 60.

She composed music until the day she died; the last piece was performed at her memorial.  She wrote her first compositions to accompany the poetry of Khalil Gibran as a teenager recovering from back surgery, said her twin sister, Sarita Winchell.

“We did everything together,” she said.

Brought up in a musical family, the pair learned to play the piano as children and each picked up the flute in the sixth grade — the earliest that lessons were offered at their Long Island school.

The only four years that they didn’t live near each other were during college, when Mrs. Tobler pursued piano at the State University of New York at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.

In 1971, she came to Voorheesville to teach and not long after, Frank McDermott asked Leonard Tobler to come to the school to look over the percussion equipment.  “He brought me in under false pretences,” said Mr. Tobler, who played with the Albany Symphony Orchestra.  Mr. McDermott walked into her class, pulled her out into the hall, and introduced the couple, who would later marry.

Teaching was in her nature, he said, and she was always looking for ways to incorporate the humanities into the school’s curriculum.  Mrs. Tobler sewed a common thread through art, music, and literature, her husband said, since she saw them all as a celebration of life and people’s feelings.

Students could better understand those subjects, Mrs. Tobler believed, if they understood the history that they reflected, her sister said as an example of integrating the humanities with core disciplines.

“She loved teaching students,” Mrs. Winchell said.  “She was an example of how music can affect the heart.”

Over the years, her sister gave several troubled students a purpose in school by catching their imaginations through music, Mrs. Winchell said.  Sometimes it’s only through the arts that a teacher can catch a student who might otherwise fall through the cracks, she said.

“Lydia had an innate sense of what that meant,” Dr. Michael Tebbano said of her  ability to teach kids according to their needs.  Now the superintendent of the Bethlehem schools, he first met Mrs. Tobler at Voorheesville in the 1970s when he was fresh out of college.  He credits her with showing him the subtleties of good teaching.

Beyond engraining the humanities in the school, Mr. Tebbano said, she also brought a global perspective to the music department by teaching the songs of distant cultures.  Mrs. Tobler helped her students break down the barriers that separate people, he said, and “music was her medium to do that.”

She partnered with the Old Songs organization to bring varying types of folk music to the school, said director Andy Spence.  An enthusiastic supporter of the annual music festival, Mrs. Tobler would often participate in the shape-note singing, which is a southern bred a cappella method sung in four parts, Mrs. Spence said.  The cadence of its hymns is more driving than a church choir’s, she said.

The music that she wrote to accompany the poem “early morning blessing,” by local writer Dennis Sullivan, sounds like a hymn, Mr. Sullivan said.  A year ago, she chose to compose music for it — her favorite of his poems, which is about harvesting silence.  He was amazed at the way she could capture it, he said of hearing her sing it to him.  Of her rendition, he said, “Someone could get inside silence and simplicity and sing about it.”

Her music was “creatively simple and emotionally inspiring,” Mr. Tebbano said.

Of what she loved about music, her husband said, “It was the expression from the soul — how it would bring out the humanity of a person.”


Mrs. Tobler is survived by her husband, Leonard J. Tobler, and her son, Gregory A. Tobler and his wife, Kristen, of Stamford, Conn.  She is also survived by her mother, Katherine C. Crounse, of Voorheesville, and her sisters, Lynn C. Crounse of Hampton, Va. and Sarita Winchell and her husband, John, of Voorheesville.  She is also survived by many nieces and nephews.

Her father, Myndert Crounse, died before her.

A memorial was held on April 11 at St. Matthew’s Church in Voorheesville with arrangements by the Reilly and Son Funeral Home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Voorheesville Friends of Music, c/o C.A. Bouton High School, Voorheesville, NY  12186 or to the First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville, 68 Maple Ave., Voorheesville, NY  12186.

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