MHS Choir Directors Connie Turley & Marilee Jones Decker
Choir Teacher “Carries On” in Footsteps
of Former MHS Music Mentors
Mesa High’s Choir teacher, Marilee Jones Decker, is no stranger to the choir and orchestra rooms in the Performing Arts building – nor to the stage in the MHS auditorium. A 2008 alumnus, she not only swam on the swim team but was a member of at least one of the choral groups and played the upright bass in an orchestra for all three of the years that she attended Mesa High. She was in the cast of both musicals during her sophomore and junior years – “Pirates of Penzance” and “Crazy for You.” It was while she was participating in these groups and activities that she feels her abilities and endearing love for the performing arts were indelibly influenced by her all-time, inspiring teachers and mentors, namely Germann “Mr. A” Aguilar (choir), Karalee Hagen (orchestra) and Sandy Stones (drama).
“These teachers saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and I knew I wanted to be that kind of teacher and share that kind of experience with someone else,” reflects Mrs. Decker. “They gave me opportunities and inspired and encouraged me to push myself harder and farther than I thought I could go.” Consequently, she states, she was able to achieve much more than she ever thought possible.
Mrs. Decker, the youngest of five siblings – all of whom were MHS graduates, as were both of her parents (Kyle and Amy Riding Jones) – was involved in the music programs at Mesa Jr. High and then Mesa High. She says she has always loved music, that it’s just something that her family, as well as her extended family (all MHS graduates), always did. She states, “My parents wanted us all to play the piano and another instrument, and for some reason, I just liked the bass because it was different.” As a sophomore, she was in Chorale Choir and Symphonic Strings, and as a junior and senior she participated in A Cappella Choir, Chamber Singers and Chamber Strings. These were the years that she was under the tutelage of the three teachers that she considers her “music mentors.” During her senior year, she had an amazing opportunity to go on tour with the Music Department to both New York City and Washington, D.C. “I loved it!” she said of the school trip. “I never would have been able to travel to places like that if it weren’t for those tours.”
After high school, Mrs. Decker went to Eastern AZ College in Thatcher to pursue an Associate Degree in Music. It was there that she met and married fellow music student and percussionist Mikell Decker of Winslow, AZ. They then transferred to BYU-Idaho, where both earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education. Because of her desire to “get back down to (her) roots in Mesa,” the Deckers moved here and did their student teaching at local high schools – Marilee in choir and Mikell in the band.
In 2017, after two years of teaching choir at Carson and Kino Jr. High Schools, plus general music at Emerson Elementary, Connie Turley – MHS Choir teacher at the time – approached Mrs. Decker about coming to Mesa High as assistant choir director. Mrs. Turley had known Mrs. Decker earlier through her children when they were in high school together, and they were well-acquainted because of their involvement in the extra-curricular activities – especially the musicals – in the Performing Arts Department. A year later, after Mrs. Turley announced she was retiring, Mrs. Decker was hired to replace her as 2018-19 Mesa High Choir teacher and director of the seven campus choirs. Katie Hixon, a graduate of Northern AZ University, is the current assistant choir director.
Of her position as Mesa High Choir Director, Mrs. Decker says, “It is so surreal! I still walk into the choir office expecting to see someone else sitting in the chair there at the desk!” She loves her involvement with the students – musically and otherwise – and takes the teaching opportunity seriously, considering the impact and lasting influence her former music teachers, including Connie Turley, had on her, as a student and also as an individual. She has adopted the same open-door policy that she credits those instructors as having. “They made it personal,” she recalls, “They let us know that they were always there for us, and that meant a lot to me.”
What makes her position as a choir teacher at Mesa High – and her newly acquired title of “Mama Decker” – even more meaningful, Mrs. Decker shares, is that she and her husband are unable to have children of their own. “It’s why I became a teacher. Because these are my kids, and I’m so grateful that their parents share them with me.” Mikell, who steps in frequently to help both musically and wherever else is needed, is referred to affectionately by her students as “Papa Decker.”
As she follows in the footsteps of her own Mesa High mentors, Mrs. Becker’s hope is to be able to carry on the mantle of leadership and share that same experience with her students that made such a difference in her own life. “It’s about helping a student to show others – and themselves – what they’re truly made of. And it’s about being together as a whole to accomplish or do something they might not otherwise ever be able to experience. Not just to ‘experience,’ but to ‘experience together.’ It just means so much more!”
Welcome, and Way to “Carry On” the Music
at Mesa High, Mrs. Decker!
Top left to right – Marilee with Mr. Aguilar; NYC Tour 2008; MHS 2008 Graduates
Bottom left to right – Marilee with Mrs. Hagen; Marilee far right in “Pirates of Penzance”(2006); Concert Choir;
Chamber Singers Jazz/Madrigals in Flagstaff (2019)