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 Montpelier Magazine

Completely purple: the Salem City school district music faculty family, (l-r) Eddie Lupton, Jim Paxton, Chris Wilkes, Kristen Wilkes and ReVonda Mosser.


Making beautiful music together in Salem schools

REVONDA MOSSER was a music teacher for the Salem City school district before there even was a Salem district. After graduating from JMU in 1974, she began teaching music in the Roanoke County school district, which included Salem schools. In 1983, the city of Salem split from the county and established its own school district. Two years later, Jim Paxton ('79) joined Mosser and began teaching music in Salem.

Eddie Lupton ('78) and Chris ('95) and Kristen Wilkes ('97) later joined this band of JMU grads, and all are now making beautiful music together. In fact, JMU grads constitute Salem schools' entire music program.

"I'd like to think that the reason this has happened is because those of us who came in early did such a good job," Mosser says. "JMU's music department has a great reputation and has maintained it over the years." Mosser has been teaching music for nearly 30 years and is the music teacher for George Washington Carver and West Salem elementary schools. She has more than 900 pupils this year and had more than 1,000 last year.

Paxton grew up in Salem, so it is no surprise that he ended up teaching there. "I understood that Salem was unique," Paxton says. "We have four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. The standards are high academically, because it's a small school system. They want top quality in everything, which goes along with the high quality music education we all received at JMU." Paxton, who is the Salem High School band director, told his buddy Eddie Lupton about an open music teacher position in Salem.

"I had been out of teaching for six years," Lupton says, "but I had a good background in music thanks to JMU. I was in the chorale, the Madison Singers, and I had been a Madisonian for three years. It was a great education. My voice teacher, Gordon Ohlsson, was like a father figure to me, and my choir teacher, Dave Watkins, was also a big influence." Lupton teaches choir at Salem's middle and high schools, and teaches Exploratory Music at the middle school.

Kristen ('97) and Chris Wilkes ('95) are the latest Dukes to jump on Salem's bandwagon. Both majored in music education at JMU and met as members of the Marching Royal Dukes. "I had a wonderful experience at JMU," Kristen says, "from my beginning methods classes through student teaching. When I graduated, I felt very well prepared for a teaching job."

Kristen teaches music at East Salem Elementary and South Salem Elementary. Chris is the band director at Andrew Lewis Middle School and assistant director of the Salem High School marching band.

All in the family

In addition to the Chris and Kristen Wilkes marital bond, JMU blood runs thick among the Salem music teachers' families. Paxton met his wife, Hilda Root Paxton ('77), at JMU. She majored in music education at JMU and is now teaching special education at Salem High School. Mosser met her husband, Len ('74), on the first night of their freshman year, and their daughter graduated in 2001. Mosser also has two younger sisters who graduated from JMU. The Mossers also have nieces, nephews and a brother-in-law who attended JMU, in-cluding a niece and nephew who are students today.

•  Sande Snead Fulk ('82)