Where words fail, music speaks: South Rowan community remembers larger than life teacher

Published 12:07 am Tuesday, February 7, 2023

When someone has been a teacher for four decades, it is hard to quantify their impact on their students.

However, for South Rowan High music teacher Jan Lookabill Gore, who passed away on Wednesday, the proof was in the pudding at a celebration of life ceremony in her honor.

More than 100 former students joined each other on stage to pay one last musical tribute to the woman that had inspired them during the ceremony at Trinity Lutheran Church, where Gore was also the music director.

Several of those students looked back fondly on their teaching with Gore, whether in school or at church, where she was also the music director. Between the trips to Carnegie Hall and the Madrigal dinners, there were more than enough memories to choose from, but the bigger picture of the person that Gore was and what she inspired kept rising to the top.

One former student, Jason Harwood, who graduated from South Rowan High in 2000 and became a music teacher, witnessed firsthand just how much music meant to Gore.

“Music was not an occupation or a hobby for Jan Gore, nor was it something that she just happened to be particularly skilled at doing,” Harwood said. “Music was an expression of her very being, or as I’m sure she’d say, her soul.”

Many other students, such as Isaiah Cornelius, also attribute their musical journeys back to Gore, who, in Cornelius’ case, helped organize an audition for the music department at Wingate University.

“Mrs. Gore had the ability to help her students find confidence in their gifts and talents and worked to make sure that they were showcased,” Cornelius said.

Cornelius is now a music educator who models his instruction on Gore’s methods.

“She ran the choral department at South Rowan High School with a fist of iron and a heart of gold and made her dark, gray classroom a shining beacon of love, joy and acceptance,” Cornelius said. “A lot of my teaching is based on what I learned in her classroom. I hope that the remainder of my career in music education does justice to what tools she gave me and that I can touch as many lives as she did.”

Another former student, Key’erah Wagner, called her time in Gore’s ensemble a privilege she could hardly wait for.

“I remember in middle school being so excited to go to high school so I could have the opportunity to sing and be a part of the varsity choir,” Wagner said. “Mrs. Gore’s class was more than just a classroom. It was a safe space and place where we all shared the same interests in music.”

Wagner indicated that Gore not only taught her to be a better singer and read music but pushed her to be a better leader, more confident in herself and more reliant on prayer.

Another student, Grace Horne, said that Gore had a way of seeing a student’s value even when the student could not.

“She held people around her to a high standard,” Horne said. “She was quick to let you know what you need to work on, but it brought us comfort. Not everyone has that person to set those ground rules and examples for them.”

Horne will always hold onto a motto of Gore’s, “where words fail, music speaks.”

As evidenced by former student testimony, Gore’s instruction could not be boiled down to just notes on paper. It was how she treated everyone and expected everyone to be treated that endeared her to parents and students alike.

For instance, Susan King didn’t have Gore as an instructor, but three of her children did, and the impact Gore had on her kids is one that King will always cherish.

“Jan developed a love of music in my children,” King said. “Today, all three of them are vocalists on their church worship teams and choirs.”

King remarked that Gore’s greatest gift was “the ability to create a family atmosphere” among the chorus members.

“They supported, encouraged, and looked out for one another,” King said. “If any members were having a conflict with one another, she made them meet and talk until they worked things out.”

King remarked that Gore had a concern for her students’ overall well-being, not just their singing abilities.

“She truly had a heart for students who struggled, which brings me to my son Patrick, who has high-functioning autism,” King said. “He entered high school as a nervous and awkward freshman. Chorus became a safe place for him where he felt loved and accepted. Jan created that atmosphere, and her students absorbed it.”

When her son’s solo was received with cheers from his fellow chorus students, King knew it was the atmosphere that Gore so carefully cultivated.

It’s something that Patrick King will always remember about his teacher.

“Jan Gore was a special woman,” Patrick King said. “She was supportive both inside and outside the classroom with her students. Growing up from middle school, I was bullied, and that made me a shy person about to start their journey in high school. Thanks to Mrs. Gore, I learned a lot about hard work and having confidence in being myself. Music will forever be a part of my life because of her and she can rest happy knowing all the lives she has blessed.”

Co-workers remember a leading lady who made school and church better just by being there and being herself. Lisa Troutman, who worked alongside Gore at South Rowan High School, indicated that they were introduced early in her stint.

“We were friends from that very day on,” Troutman said.

The two bonded over a shared love of music, but they forged a forever friendship. Troutman played the piano at Gore’s celebration of life service on Sunday.

“I watched the faces of her former students and knew how much they loved her too,” Troutman said. “After they sang “Praise His Holy Name” and “The Lord Bless and Keep You,” all of their memories came flooding back.”

As dedicated as she was in the classroom, Troutman said that Gore’s greatest strength was her faith in Jesus Christ.

“One of her favorite choral anthems was, “Set Me As a Seal Upon Your Heart,” Troutman said. “She loved to direct that anthem and also “Elijah Rock.” Any choral anthem that talked about her Lord and Savior was one of her favorites, so there were many to choose from.”

Gore may now be gone, but she will never be forgotten, and every time her chorus strikes out a tune at South Rowan, Trinity Lutheran or even Carnegie Hall, it seems like a safe bet she is watching from on high and cheering louder than anyone.