Palmer Keeps the Music Alive
Jim Palmer discovered his love of music in the fifth grade when a string quartet performed at his elementary school. When he discovered his love of teaching rivaled his love of music, he was well on his way to making music the rest of his life.
Thanks to a volunteer gig with a youth orchestra and his early teaching jobs, Palmer was inspired to continue sharing his love of music with students. He has done just that for more than 30 years and has no plans to stop. The seasoned orchestra director has called Allatoona High School home since 2008.
Students credit their beloved teacher for mentoring them and keeping their love of music alive.
One recent graduate, Garrett Wilson, earned enough credits to graduate early but opted to take a few more classes with his four-year orchestra teacher.
“He’s an amazing teacher, and I want to be able to learn as much about what he does, how he does it and how he thinks because that’s the dedication I want to have whenever I grow up, ” he said.
Garrett didn’t look to Palmer just for guidance on improving his violin skills. He also looked to Palmer for help on college decisions and classes he should take.
“He’s good at getting people motivated and excited to make music, and he also does it in a way where we learn about life,” Garrett said.
Of course, it all comes back to music.
“He wants us to enjoy music for life,” Garrett said. “He’s also teaching us, so we develop a lifelong passion for music, even if we’re not majoring in it. Also, (he is teaching us) so we just have better lives in general.”
That is precisely his orchestra teacher’s goal.
“So, through music, I can teach them sensitivity and accountability,” Palmer said. “I can teach them the love of the arts. All of that is important. I would say my overlying goal for them is that they are productive, happy citizens.”
Another recent graduate, Kimberly Lyla, turned to music as a stress reliever and a break from her academic and sports schedule.
“It was nice to get my mind off it and just play good music with the rest of my classmates,” she said. “I think Mr. Palmer has done a great job with having me feel that music is important in my life.”
Like Garrett, Kimberly also credits Palmer for some of the life skills she learned in high school.
“He has taught me to be on top of things and stay organized, especially since (I was on the) student board,” she said.
It’s no coincidence students developed skills that helped them in other academic areas.
“There is a big connection between music and math,” Palmer said. “The rhythm side of music uses the left brain, which is the same side of the brain that math uses in calculations. I feel the important connection between music and academics is the discipline. In order to play an instrument or to sing at a high level, it requires slow practice and slow dedication, and it’s a discipline.”
Palmer’s teaching style keeps students coming back. He talks to them individually before and after class and makes them feel heard: “You did great.” “You’re playing amazing.”
“I like how he talked to us individuals,” Kimberly said. “I like that he’s honest, and he’s energetic, so he does keep us focused.”
May always brings one of Palmer’s favorite but also saddest days of the school year, as he has to say goodbye to his seniors.
“My two favorite days are when they first walk into the orchestra room as a ninth-grader because their potential is limitless,” he said. “The other favorite day is when they walk across the stage at graduation. That’s a great day because when they walk across the stage, I think that person is now equipped to love music for the rest of their life.”
Some of Palmer’s students go on to major in music. Some play in regional orchestras or freelance as musicians. Some even follow in his footsteps by pursuing music education and music therapy careers. Two of his former students were student-teachers in Cobb schools in the spring, and he’s hoping they’ll stay in the district.
Although she wasn’t one of his students, one teacher was impacted by Palmer and was led to join Cobb Schools. His daughter Ericka teaches chorus at Hillgrove High.
“She graduated from Allatoona,” he said. “She was in the chorus program and the theater program, and our theater teacher, Ms. Traci Woody-Kemp, had a huge impact on her life as well. She loved it so much that she wanted to get her degree and come and teach in Cobb.”
When a part-time position opened, Palmer — who lives in Kennesaw with his wife of 32 years, Lydia, and their adult autistic son, Curtis — told his daughter she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“I said, ‘You have to take it. To be a first-year graduate and get a music job in Cobb is a big deal,’” he said. “So after one year, she grew the program, and they made her full time. She just loves every second of it.”
Even before Palmer moved to Georgia and Cobb, the Lakeland, Florida, native knew the reputation of the Cobb Schools music department, which has been named one of the best communities in the nation for music education for the 20th year. When he attends national music conventions and clinics, he’s reminded that the district’s music program is known throughout the nation.
For Palmer, it’s important to keep music alive in the hearts of his students so they carry that with them after graduation.
“Music provides them an opportunity to connect with other humans and other people that they share common grounds with and maybe that they have differences with on a more global approach,” he said. “Society is incomplete without music. Music expresses those emotions that we can’t say with words.”