WINLOCK — It’s swan-song time for Karl Scarborough this month after more than three decades leading the music program at the Winlock School District.
For 32 years, thousands of students have polished their singing voices and honed their instruments in Scarborough’s classroom. Retiring at the end of this school year, the Washington State Music Educators Hall of Fame inductee said his aim has always been to teach kids using music rather than just teaching kids music.
“I always thought it was important to teach the important things that kids are going to need when they graduate from high school, and I think music is one of the crucial ways to do that,” Scarborough said.
For most of his career, Scarborough was the only music teacher in the Winlock School District, serving as both the band and choir director at the middle school and high school. The last two years he transitioned to full-time work at the elementary school.
Schooled at Eastern Washington University, Scarborough taught in Cle Elum for one year before he came across a job posting for the position at Winlock. After taking the job in 1992, he said it took nearly a decade to get the program thriving.
“They really had no music program here at the time, so we started from the bottom level and worked up,” he said. “We made it a success and have done a lot of cool things for the kids.”
Over the years Scarborough aimed to cultivate life skills in students that go beyond music, like teamwork and cooperation. He spent seven years in the U.S. Navy after high school and credits that time as essential to his development as a teacher.
“‘It was probably the best thing I did after high school and it really helped me in my teaching career because some of the things I see now are nothing compared to what I went through being on a ship for three years,” he said. “It helped me grow up.”
Scarborough was inducted into the Washington State Educators Hall of Fame in 2020.
“It was a huge shocker,” he recalled. “It’s an honor and very humbling considering all the names of the college professors and composers that are on that list — a lot of my heroes and mentors are on that list.”
In his classroom Scarborough held open-mic and karaoke days on Fridays, which he said was often an opportunity for students to think more deeply about their musical consumption.
“They’d bring their own CDs and sometimes the music would be a little inappropriate, and I just encourage them to dig a little bit and get them thinking about what they’re putting into their brains with what they listen to, because it can be garbage in and garbage out with some of the more derogatory stuff.”
Growing up in the Okanagan, his mom was a professional singer and dad was an art and drama teacher.
“I just inherited that love of music and I was really blessed to teach and share that with kids,” he said. “I was a struggling student too, so when I see a kid struggle I can really appreciate that and can get down to that level to help them out.”
Scarborough said the most rewarding part of the job was developing lasting friendships with former students, and seeing the lights first flicker in pupils after hard work and practice.
“Like when you see a student first learning to play clarinet and they can play that first note and the work ethic that we really want to instill pays off,” he said. “I’ll miss just seeing the kids get excited about it and being able to share my passion for music with them.”
Scarborough plans to remain deeply involved in the local music scene. He co-conducts the Lewis County Community Band and is also involved with a local wind symphony that performs several concerts each year.
He teaches and plays all of the band instruments, but most enjoys the euphonium — the first instrument he learned to play as a fifth grader.