Loi, Jo

Interviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: 59 Bostwick St.
Date of Interview:
File No: 127 A & B Cycle:
Summary: Youth concerts, Story hour,PE techer Cronwall & Falls Village

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript


Salisbury Association and Scoville Memorial Library



TAPE # 127A&B


CONTENTS OF TAPE: Description of Jo Loi’s deep involvement in the formation and support of the Young Artist’s Recital, the inception of the Story Hour at the Scoville Library, and her innovative teaching career as a Physical Education teacher.


This is Jean McMillen interviewing Jo Loi at her home, 59 Bostwick Street on September 29th, 2011.

JM: What is your full name?

JL: My full name is Jo Ann Wong Loi.

JM: When and where were you born?

JL: I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18lh, 1940.

JM: What were your parents’ names?

JL: My father’s name was Gung Ching Wong and my mother’s name was Gladys Chin Fong Wong;.

JM: Do you have siblings?

JL: I have three other siblings. I have a half-brother, Edward, and then a sister, Nancy, and a brother, James.

JM: Tell me about your education, please.

JL: Well, let’s see, I attended the Allen School in New Orleans from kindergarten through sixth grade, and then, we moved up to Chicago where I attended junior high school, seventh and eighth grade, at Dickson Elementary School. This was on the South side of Chicago and then from there, went to public high school, Hersh High School. From Hersh, I went to Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Majored in Physical Education – took some graduate study work at Stanford University, and also, am a half-baked Social Worker. I completed one year at the Columbia University School of Social Work.

JM: Why and how did you come to this area?

JL: I came to this area when my husband, Kiao, was asked to teach at Hotchkiss School. And this was in— he was going to teach in the fall of 1966.

JM: Would you give me a brief history of your open recital program for the youth in the area?



JL: Well, let’s see, this idea came from -1 was a member of the Board of the Berkshire Music and Dance Association, starting in about 1971. And, over the years, it just seemed to me that there were very little opportunities for children who were taking private lessons to, basically, perform. And, we didn’t want a competition, but we wanted it to be more friendly but, also, a little bit – say, the next level up from having a piano party in your teacher’s home. And so, with the help of Dorothy Massey and the support of Al Sly, the Young Artist’s Recital was born in 19 – we had our first one in 1980. Is that correct, Jean? Does it say 1980?

JM: I think so.

JL: 1981, sorry. It would be 1981, because we just celebrated our thirtieth. We started planning this in 1980, and we chose the last Sunday of February and sent out letters to a lot of the private teachers in the area as well as all the music educators in the public schools and the private schools, mostly in the NW comer and it was wonderful. We had so many different children. The requirements had to be “a child between the age of kindergarten through twelfth grade”… we were going to leave the choice up to the teacher – he or she was to choose a student that best represented technique, musicality and promise at his or her age. So you could have a six year old or a seven year old, and you could have a seventeen year old or an eighteen year old and the wonderful thing about it was that the little children could see and hear what it could be like if they continued with their music studies when the juniors and seniors played; and for the juniors and seniors playing, they thought back to the time when they were struggling at their first performance and had memory slips and this kind of thing. But the audience was so forgiving. And, afterwards, we had a very relaxed – everybody got a Certificate – and then, we had a relaxed Reception which gave parents and teachers and friends the opportunity to go up to various performers and say what a wonderful job, who do you study with, etc., and this was the birth of the Young Artist’s Recital.

JM: Did the pupils themselves connect and mentor each other? Or, was this not something that was feasible because of the distance and area?

JL: No, they did not mentor each other. If the private school students, obviously, that would be very difficult to mentor anyone that was younger. If they mentored anyone, it might have been another student at their school who, perhaps, would be chosen the next year. So, and the other thing was that, you could not perform two years in a row.

JM: Oh!

JL: You could do it every other year, but the whole idea was to give many different



students an opportunity to perform. I think, in the nineties, we added dance which was fabulous because it allowed a visual. It was wonderful. We had two ballet schools in the area and they sent their young people and we had the modem dance department from Hotchkiss sent some of their students and so, it really expanded the Recital to a more complete arts program.

JM: Is there a Board or a Committee that directs this?

JL: We have a very relaxed Board that does this. Annette Hunt Shermershiem. No, I’m sorry. It’s Annette Shermersheim Hunt is now, has been, a key member since the very inception as well as Al, as well as let’s see —all our cookies are either donated and that is organized by Heather Schaufele with the help of Linda Estabrook and, uh, it’s just wonderful. That’s the kind of thing where we just say, “Linda, we’re having the recital on this date”, and she says, “Got it”. Judy Dansker came in a little bit later: she’s now responsible for sending out all the letters, making the contacts, I do the publicity. Now that we have allied ourselves with the Al Sly Music Fund from the Salisbury Congregational Church, we’ll be able to have a more professional poster made and signs put out on the street. It took us thirty years to get there but, Al has always been interested in supporting and promoting young artists: this fit right into his Mission Statement: it was a perfect, perfect match. We are thrilled.

JM: Do you have future goals?

JL: Do we have future goals. I think one of the things that we want to reinstitute is dance. We no longer have dance teachers in the area. There is one school in Amenia which we would very much like to, um, I guess, talk to and encourage them to send someone. And so, Teresa Carroll has offered to be part of our committee and her daughters were very involved in the recitals through dance and so, that will be one of her assignments is to see if we can get more dance students. As it turns out, we have more students coming in now from Massachusetts.

JM: Really.

JL: And, it seems we’ve lost a lot of private school music teachers and in Connecticut, the private school schedules are so packed that this is not

JM: It’s not feasible any longer.

JL: Right, and they have so many things in their own schools, they don’t need this



community. The public school teachers are getting their students ready for either Regional Chorus or Regional Band or the North West Regional: this is one more thing at that time of the year. Or, they’re involved in school plays so it’s – we’re really finding like all arts organizations that you are coming against sports and other competing activities. The goal really is to keep it going and to just see if we can get the word out more completely, so that many students will have an opportunity to perform.

JM: What kind of feedback do you get from former participants in this?

JL: Well, it’s really interesting and that was some of the comments when we had our thirtieth anniversary this past February, and that’s February of 2011. We asked students to basically write about – we asked past participants to write about the role music played in their life or in their lives today. If we were just a part of that, some remembered, “Oh yes, I remember playing my violin and I had my hockey pants on underneath because, as soon as I finished playing, I had to go to an ice hockey game.” I thought, “Boy, if that summed it all up, as to how students today are so committed to so many different activities. We had one student just basically say, “I don’t actually remember playing in or singing in your recitals, but I do remember the song. I remember the context of me being in that show at the high school, and how it really defined my life and my time. He is now teaching in an international school in, I think, it’s Poland. He directed “Grease” at his school. That’s how the Arts carry on and on and on: we have to keep this alive.

JM: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

JL: Funds are being cut for art and music and physical education and, you know, these are the life skills these are skills that

JM: These are the joys of life

JL: Absolutely. And you use them well until, you know … Heather Schaufele who is 89 playing golf and singing.

JM: Now, I know you were instrumental in a Story Hour, at the other end of the scale. Would you tell us about that?

JL: Well, I just think I was at the right place at the right time. We were leaving Hotchkiss at that point and Dr. Arnold Whitridge was the Chairman of the Scoville Library Board. And he approached me and said that the Board was thinking of starting a story hour and



would I be the one to come in and read stories. I love reading stories -1 think the theatrical part can get in and you can have different voices for different characters and it’s so much fun to see children either get surprised or laugh or even a little scared and so, we started it at the Library very casual, very open. You know, I think it was most probably, a drop in on a Saturday morning at ten o’clock

JM: What year was this?

JL: I remember my daughter standing on her tip toes so this might have been maybe in ’71. ’71 or ’72. Like anything else, everything is just kind of – is back there…(Laughter) And so, from that, there was such a great response that we then decided that between all the mothers who were bringing their children to the story hour, I realized that a lot of them were elementary school teachers, taking time off to raise their children. Very, very skilled at reading stories and so, we changed the whole program to a Thursday morning, partly, because the one and only Nursery school in town – Little Scholar – did not meet on Thursday. At that point, there really was no Day Care or, if there was, it was very, very small. We still had a lot of stay at home Moms who would bring their children. We started with four to five to six year olds: they came at 10 o’clock. I divided it up between readers and crafts. you would have one set of mothers doing crafts and another set reading and when the reading got to be – the groups got to be so large, we split them so that we had three and four year old in a group and five and six year old in another group. Then they all met together for crafts. It was wonderful. You had all these elementary school teachers: they came up with their own projects: they got all their own materials. They set them all out while the reading was done in another room. It was just a well-greased machine – because you had so many invested, motivated mothers. At the year’s end, Barbara Collins, we had a sort of a wrap up show, with all the mothers: it was Mother Goose Rhymes. We asked the mothers to take a role whether you are one of three men in a tub, or you were the kitten who lost her mittens. It was so much fun for the mothers. Then, Barbara wrote a song that we would all sing and, of course, we had zero practice time, so she had it all written out on these huge white paper sheets, that she taped to the bookcases. These were words to a very familiar song and we just marched around singing like we’d practiced for hours and it was a blast.

JM: Now, the Story Hour was at the Library.

JL: It was at the Library before the renovation, I guess.

JM: Yes, it would be, because the renovation didn’t come until a little bit later. The Librarian at that time would have been Sara O’Connor Wardell.



JL: No, it was Ruth? Was it Ruth Miner?

JM: Polly, Polly Miner

JL: Polly Miner who was —She was up high behind her desk so as a child, you know, who was so little handing their books way up high and looking at this woman – it was a little daunting for some of them

JM: A little daunting for some of us adults too! (laughter)

JL: So we encouraged children to take books out. They brought them back the next week and got more books. It was a wonderful relaxed way of introducing children to reading and to the library.

JM: Which is wonderful

JL: And I think once the mothers then started going back to work, Day Care became more prominent. Our numbers were reduced plus, we were running out of people who were willing to volunteer. As a result, that form of Story Hour basically stopped. We had a good three year run.

JM: O.K. So about 74, 75 and then you stopped

JL: Yes.

JM: What other community activities have you been involved in?

JL: Oh, my! Do you really want to know?

JM: Sure.

JL: I was on the Board of the Library and then, I was on the Salisbury Democratic Town Committee. I was on the Board of the Women’s Support Services. I am involved as a singer in Crescendo, the Baroque music group based in Lime Rock. I was the President, and past President, and held that position for three years and am still on the Board.

JM: Wonderful.



JL: It’s interesting how my finger is so dipped into music! and the Arts.

JM: Yes, yes.

JM: And you did not mention how you are a substitute organist for various churches

JL: Then, I performed in Gilbert and Sullivan. That was one of my goals when I retired. I just said, “Before I retire, I want to sing and dance on the stage!”

JM: Had you not ever done that before?

JL: Never done that.

JM: What kind of experience was that?

JL: Oh, it was a blast. It was fun! (Oh good!) The first one I was in was The Mikado, so I thought, “You know, if I really mess it up, at least, I look the part.” (Laughter)

JL: When I had friends come to see The Mikado,“Jo, we couldn’t find

you on the stage!” I thought, the makeup and the wigs must have been really terrific! (Laughter) They had a hard time finding me! Oh, but it was—I had a wonderful time.

JM: Was that only one that you were in? The Mikado?

JL: No, I was in the Mikado twice, and then Pirates, and then Iolanthe

JM: I saw you in Iolanthe. That’s the one. I was not familiar with that, but I was able to pick you out.

JL: I know to have a Chinese fairy! One of my favorite experiences with Iolanthe, we were out in front of LaBonne’s trying to sell tickets and we – Peggy Heck and I had our costumes on – and this little child comes up and looks up at me and says, “Are you a real fairy?” I said, “What do you think?” She says, “I think you are. How did you get here?” I said, “How do you think I got here?” She said, “Oh, I think you flew.” I’m thinking, “Oh dear, what am I going to say next?” She wanted me to fly for her., Thank goodness it was a very windy day. I said,” You know what, it is such a windy day, I’m afraid that I might end up just banging into this tree or into the building and that wouldn’t be so good” She said, Oh, okay”. When we were at Music Mountain, a little girl came up to Peggy



and asked her if she was the Tooth Fairy!

JM: That’s what I thought you were going to say!

JL: So, it was just wonderful that you could be this character only because you were in a costume. How much fun to just, on a very imagination level, go with the story, which I love to do. I did a lot of that in my teaching.

JM: Isn’t it wonderful in this day and age of technology and facts that there are still children that are creative and have imagination. We need that.

JL Oh, absolutely and to have adults continue to be in that world of pretend. You know, I can be as silly as any of the rest of them, (laughter)

JM: Oh yeah! When my door was closed, nobody knew what went on in there.

JL: That’s what, I mean — that’s what—I think in a way that’s what’s such a positive about teaching – you’ve got your own little system right in your teaching space but, uh, no, I loved pretending with the little kids and being just as silly as they were: they didn’t look at it like the teacher being silly, they looked at it like someone who was in their world (as peers) and could communicate with them. It was fun. When I got my education at Oberlin, I think one of the big things that stuck with me is that, don’t leave out the word “play” in physical education. What is “play”? What is the definition of “play”? What is the definition of “recreation” or “re-creation”? Because Oberlin was a Liberal Arts college, I think my approach to physical education was that you don’t have to be the top star athlete. You just have to know how to analyze: then just basically fix something. This is basically to teach basic skills, analyze movement, etcetera. It was very different in that respect, I think, because their feeling was that there are often athletes who would say “Oh, you’d be great as a Physical Educator. However, for them, their skill set was so high, and it was so easy for them, that it was difficult for them to really understand what was going on with someone who was struggling.

JM: Yes. Sometimes they are very impatient. Why can’t you do – it’s easy….and it’s not.

JL: Exactly. I figured I had met so many adults in my life who said they hated physical education – there wasn’t anything that they enjoyed doing. I just thought, you know I hope after the nine years, because it was kindergarten through eighth grade, that if you had me, that I will have introduced you to something that you liked and would love to do.



There was a mixture of team sports but there was also a huge mixture of life time sports.

JM: What school did you teach in?

JL: I taught in Cornwall for thirty three years and I also taught at Lee Kellogg for seventeen years, so

JM: Were you able to write your own curriculum as a Physical Education instructor? Or were you circumscribed by the State mandates?

JL: The State mandates were only suggestions. I was on the curriculum writing team for Physical Education. I think we had broad categories that we had to cover: the broad categories were things that I hoped that everything I did would fall under. It worked out well, but it’s just the whole approach. You can have a rigorous program but it should be play and not necessarily always competition.

JM: Now, you were teaching before Title Nine?

JL: Right.

JM: Would you define Title Nine and how your teaching changed if it did?

JL: Well, it was really interesting. Before Title Nine I had separate classes. When I started at Cornwall, I would have the girls twice one week: then once the next week. I would have the boys once one week and twice the next. When Title Nine came in, the directive came from the Superintendent. “Okay, Title Nine is passed. Next week, you will have co-ed classes.” I said well, now, wait a minute I’m all for this. I was someone who always taught the same curriculum to the girls and to the boys: it was no different. We were asked to do it immediately. Well, the one incident that just sticks in my mind: we were having co-ed eighth grade Softball class. There was a girl on third base and a boy on first. He made a throw to third base, which is very long. Yes, it was softball: she had her gloves out and was already to catch it. At the last minute, she parted her hands: that ball hit her right smack in the face and broke her nose. All I remember is leaning over her, blond hair hanging down and the blood running from her face like a faucet. I was so angry because the boys had not had an opportunity to adjust their play. These are twelve, thirteen year old: they had to learn to monitor their play.

(JM: restrain themselves a bit)

JL: You would have to do this with another boy who was not as skilled as you. He would throw it but not just as hard. They had no opportunity to do that. I was really, I was angry because, it



was part of that. ”Oh, you only teach PE, so what’s the big deal? You know, you just go out there and play with a whistle. There are no skill sets.” I realized it was education, not only my students, but the parents and the adults in the community who were not aware of what Physical Education is. They only think about what it was for them and their experience. I am reading this wonderful magazine called “Teaching Tolerance”. (Oh, yes) They are talking about a physical education program that is not competitive, that’s inclusive. You can adapt things so that everybody feels a part of it. I thought, “You know what?, that’s what I did my whole teaching career.”

JM: What goes around comes around. It may be a twenty year cycle.

JL: It was frowned upon, in a way, when I started teaching because I wasn’t competitive enough. I wasn’t preparing these students for after school sports. I wasn’t a pre-varsity team program, but I said but that’s not my role. My role is to teach everyone, not just the skilled athletes. When the recreation program took over that part, then it allowed me then to –

JM: expand your creativity and teaching everyone.

JL: I think everyone understood why I was so obstinate, stubborn, in keeping my own philosophy and not bending to becoming a pre-varsity team warm up. That really belonged….I mean, that is really a matter of philosophy. There are different philosophies and there are different structures.

JM: I think that I would have liked to have had you as a PE instructor.

JL: That’s the highest compliment I could get! You know, because we did have fun. Another thing, I wanted to have my boys love dance: we had an International Day. International Day at Cornwall was held every other year. Every other class chose a country and then it was up to the classroom teacher to basically integrate their writing, their math skills, and history using the country. We would have the actual International Day: all the children had made their own passports. Half the students would stay in the classroom as tour guides, and the other half would go as tourists. Some classes had parents come in, if there was a child in that class who were from a German background or a Spanish speaking background. We would have that. The foods would come in. Oh, it was wonderful. Everybody got to go to a country for about



fifteen minutes, or 12 minutes. It was very short. We had lots of parents who could speak different languages from Danish to Swedish, to German. Kiau came in and spoke in Chinese. When the central bell rang for everybody to leave that country and go to the next country, the announcement would be done in a different language. That left the atmosphere of you are traveling around the world. Well, this gave me an opportunity to teach folk dances of each one of those countries. The children traveled in the morning and then, in the afternoon, they had this performance where they were all in this tiny little gym. They all got to watch each other. You know, “this is the dance from Sweden, or this is the dance from Germany”. It was wonderful because there was a reason for the kids to be really good because they were going to have to do this in front of the whole school.

There was one year a class chose Guatemala: I was not familiar with, a folk dance, absolutely from Guatemala, so the students came up to me and said, Mrs. Loi, we would like to learn the Tango. I said, “oh, alright.” I couldn’t do this in a gym class because there weren’t that many who, out of the whole class, who wanted to do this. I said, if you want to do the Tango, you all come up at recess time and we will work on it. They devoted many, many recesses to come up and practice, to learn the steps. I took the music from Damn Yankees, “Whatever Lola Wants” because it was nice and slow. It has to start from the beginning of the gentleman, putting his hand out to get his partner instead of just walking over to her and just waving his hand like, “come on, let’s go.” I said, “”No, no. Wait a minute, wait a minute.” I said, “Gentlemen, come over, present your hand and the lady stands up, your partner stands up. You’re going to promenade around the gym and get to your spot. When the music’s done and you done your dance, you bring her back to her chair, you seat her, you thank her and go sit down.” Just for those kids, they learned the manners that would be involved with this kind of dance. All I could hope for was that it might sink in to somebody’s head that for the many children who were watching that this is the way that you do it. You don’t just go over to someone and wave them on to the floor. One of the things I really pressed in front of the kids, I said, “I have to tell you my experience when I was in seventh grade in gym class. The boys sat on one side of the room and the girls on the other. The gym teacher said, ”O.K., boys, go get your partner”, six guys sprinted over to our side to ask for this one girl’s hand, the most popular girl in our class. She had the most difficult decision to make of saying, “O.K. You.”…because knowing then that she would be sending away 5 to 6 other very disappointed ones. They almost knocked her over, trying to get there fast. There were the rest of us, who were just sitting there. I had one of the disappointed ones come down the line and sort of look at me with a scowl and just said, sort of nodded his head and said, “O.K., you.” I said, “Oh, it really hurt my feelings.” it’s a memory – do you know, how long ago




that was? that I still remember that one instance. I want you to remember this: when you get to a partner, you don’t use your body language to really provide a very, very negative experience for your partner. I mean, I want you have manners – we’re just learning a skill. You know this is not forever, a lot of the dances, you are changing partners, so, let’s just do it.

The last time we had and International Day, I had an 8th grade class: they were Sweden. I found this wonderful Swedish folk dance, which starts in a circle. It starts out very slowly: then it just gets faster, faster, faster and faster so the foot work is incredible. You just have to be very light and agile: I likened it to, “This is going to set you up for football, for soccer, and basketball: you won’t be tripping over your own feet.” Because the class was so large, I had two circles: one group would do the dance and one group would watch. They had to critique them to help them with what needed to be better: “Was your circle round? Were your feet moving in the right direction?” this kind of thing. Then, they would switch places. This way they knew that the comments were so that their class would look spectacular when it came time to perform. The performance piece is huge, because it just raises the ante a little bit.

My last really exciting thing I did. I had always wanted to do “Carnival of the Animals”. I had this perfect situation where I looked at the classes: I could just tell which class could be what animal. I assigned classes to be a certain animal: I played the music and they did a lot of the choreography. Next we would put it together and they performed it. This was done with the music teacher and the art teacher who did all the costumes. The music teacher would work with the music and the interpretation. I had the seventh Grade were the simians a big class. One of the men, one of the boys in that class is now a teacher at (Terrific!) -1 think he’s at Sharon – he’s at Sharon Center School teaching Science. Matt Budge (Oh, great!) The boys all had to be the apes. Well, they were walking around scratching under their arms and free that’s just what a seventh grader does. Then they combined it with a little bit of gymnastics, shoulder rolls and jumping up and down, hooting and hollering. The art teacher had given each of them panty hose to put on their faces. (Laughter) It was priceless, absolutely priceless. It was inclusive – there was another piece where there were the cuckoos: these two seventh grade girls (the girls were doing the cuckoo one and the boys were doing the ape) – had to do a particular movement which was part of the choreography. I remember the Special Ed teacher was out in the hall crying… she was so moved watching her student who moved as if she was the most beautiful person in the world. To see that expression through dance to music was so incredible. We had some of the eighth graders (for the kindergarteners – it was like the circus part) were the lion tamers. The eighth graders all did Ogden Nash’s Poetry, they introduced each segment. It was spectacular because the gym was so small – we wanted everybody in the school to see it. There was



hardly any room for any of the parents. I asked – who was our last superintendent- Muff. I had asked Muff to come down because he was the big arts person, “You’ve got to see this program.” I was so disappointed that they never came. (Oh, what a shame!) They never came to see (a wonderful production) what integrated arts can do. I just thought, “Well, that’s too bad, that really is too bad.” We couldn’t do it at night to ask everybody to bring the children back at night so the parents could see it. It’s only the parents who could get away or who were at home could come and see it. But that will always stick in my head as to what all three of us were able to accomplish in integrated arts.

JM: Perfect

JL: That’s where we are.

JM: A lovely, lovely ending. Are there other things that you would like to add or?

JL: I think I’ve added quite a bit.

JM: You certainly have. It’s been most enjoyable. Thank you so much for the interview.

JL: Thank you Jean, you are really filling a really important role in this town to get these things down so that people who don’t know me or might not ever get to know me will at least know what has occurred and happened in this town. Perhaps I’m building on someone else’s shoulders, and somebody else is going to build on mine.

JM: We’re all integrated and it works.