About 95 alumni surprised Peterson — or "Miss P" as her students affectionately call her, including about 15 to 20 who came on stage to join the orchestra for a surprise performance of The Beatles' "Yesterday."
Directing the piece was Paul Brenner, a violin and viola instructor at UW — Platteville who was a student in Peterson's orchestra in the early 1990s. Back then Peterson traveled to teach orchestra at both Brookfield Central, where Brenner graduated in 1994, and at East.
Brenner said the alumni involvement was organized by Emma Richards, a senior who has been in Peterson's orchestra for the past four years and in 4th and 5th grade at Dixon Elementary. Richards, whose three older siblings also played in Peterson's orchestras, contacted alumni through Facebook.
"I'll miss her so much," Richards said after the concert at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. "She's been the most amazing teacher. She's very inspirational."
Peterson taught at Nicolet High School before joining Elmbrook and is retiring next month after 31 years in teaching.
Brenner said Peterson inspired him to pursue a music education career and "is a major name in the strings community." She has served on the associations including the Wisconsin Music Teachers Association, he added.
Among those returning to pay tribute to her was Kevin Allen, who has played bass for Streetlife and Greg Koch and the Tone Controls.
Peterson was overcome with emotion as students gave her presents and flowers and performed for her.
"Obviously, I can't express how touched I am," she said. "I really can't do that because my heart is too full."
The concert ended with its traditional finale of Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye) in which graduating seniors step to the front of the stage.