A grande finale: longtime Trumbull choir teacher bows out

TRUMBULL — One of the town’s best teachers is singing her swan song.

Anne Tornillo, who has guided her music students all the way to Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Radio City Music Hall, has announced her retirement after 33 years as Trumbull High School’s choir director.

“I just love watching the students learn, and seeing what they bring to the music,” she said. “Singing is like anything else. If you put in the work, you’re going to get better. The beauty of choir is that you can have average ability and your skill level will get higher and higher, and you can be part of something beautiful while you’re on the journey.”

Since announcing her retirement, Tornillo has been busy as ever, teaching her classes online and also squeezing in three Zoom calls with former students calling in from Seattle, Bangladesh and Washington, D.C.

“I am so proud of all my former students and what they’re doing,” she said. “I’m thrilled that these kids all have music in their lives.”

Tornillo, the school’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, has been at Trumbull High since 1987, when she took over a 65-member concert choir and a select singing group with 16 members.

During her time at the school, the choir’s numbers have more than tripled, and Tornillo added a men’s and women’s ensemble plus a freshman choir to the mix.

Trumbull High choirs have been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall venue nine times, including three world premieres.

The singers have also performed “The Messiah” at Lincoln Center and been the featured choir in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. Then there have been the tours of Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic to perform in venues as spectacular as Notre Dame Cathedral, Salzburg Cathedral and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Despite taking choirs around the world, Tornillo said Carnegie Hall remains the greatest honor.

“That was always the goal, the big thing,” she said. “A colleague that I knew from student teaching had recommended us for a program where choirs are called to come in and augment the production companies and we got on the list.”

From that first invitation, eight more followed as the choir gained a reputation for quality performances.

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Still, all journeys end, and Tornillo said this felt like the right time to exit the stage. It was not an easy decision, she said.

“It seemed I kept waffling because I love my job and I love the kids,” she said. “It’s bittersweet. It’s emotional. Only people who have been really blessed in their careers understand that.”

In early May, she wrote a retirement letter. Then another. Then another.

“I didn’t want anyone to hear online, or from someone else,” she said. She wrote letters to the school staff, administration and students, but couldn’t bring herself to click “Send.”

“I had been working on all those messages, but I just kept looking at them,” she said. “Finally I couldn’t wait any longer. I sent them all, click click click one after another.”

Even in retirement, though, Tornillo has no intention of slowing down. Her plans include increasing her own performance schedule, among other things.

“I’ve had such great experiences on stage, I would love to audition to go back to Yale Opera and be part of their chorus,” she said. “There’s family I would love to spend more time with, volunteering. And learning. I never want to have a day where I’m not learning.”