32 years ago, I began my music teaching career (age 24) at San Pedro High School in San Pedro, California. It was 1985 and I had just completed my Master’s Degree at USC. Later that school year, Liz and I married in Los Angeles. Professionally, I was torn between teaching and performing. High School music teaching demands 12 hour days. I would leave for school at about 6am, and arrive for marching band practice (before school) at 6:30. I often didn’t get home much before 6 or 7pm. At the same time, I was practicing daily and playing professional symphony gigs all over the Los Angeles area. Needless to say, between football game half time shows, concerts, competitions with the marching and concert bands and then gigging at night with various orchestras, I was nothing short of exhausted. I put my all into the band program at Pedro, but only lasted that one year. (I next took a job at Luther Burbank Jr. High in Burbank, California and subsequently went back for my Doctoral degree so that I would be qualified to teach University level students. This type of teaching position would be much more compatible with a performing career.)
Before I arrived, San Pedro High had 3 tumultuous years of bad band directing. In the end, the band director was fired for pilfering $$ from the band program. I came in and took over a band of 17 students. The attrition over the previous 3 years had been devastating. (By the end of the year, we were 45 strong!) The core 17 players in the band were incredibly devoted to the program and we all became very close. I had no idea, at the time, how devastated the students would be when I decided to leave.
About 3 years ago, I received a phone call from Colin, a saxophone player from my time at San Pedro. He was getting married, and about 10 of the students were with him. They were waiting for the ceremony to start, and decided to see if they could find me. The call lasted about 30 minutes and I was able to chat with all 10 of the students. They told me that 1985 was their best year of high school and that every time they got together, they relived the memories of all of the things we had done as a band. (Anyone who doubts the power of teaching and teachers is clueless about our profession!)
Earlier last week, one of the students emailed me (Mike, trumpet player, age 47) and told me he would be in Salt Lake City for the weekend. Was I close enough, and if so, could we get together? Liz and I were planning to be in Park City, so indeed we would be able to meet for lunch. 3 hours later, I was able to get caught up on Mike’s life and the lives of the students that I hadn’t seen in 32 years. I brought with me, two photo albums from the year at San Pedro, and decided that Mike should have them. The first two pictures are from one of the photo albums. Kenney and Jose hoisted me up on their shoulders when it was announced that the marching band had made it into the finals of the LA Marching Band Championships (competition). It had been many years since the band had advanced to the finals. The pics that follow are from our lunch together.
Mike is a longshoremen in the LA Harbor and commutes in from the Lake Elsinore area. He would like to get out of California altogether and is considering the Mountain West to relocate. Since work is many days on/many days off, he is considering flying in to his job for each stint of work. Incidentally, he decided to cross off Salt Lake City as a relocation possibility. It is too much like LA!! Yes, and it will only get worse ie traffic and smog.
As I head back to work after my sabbatical (Aug 28), I reflect on the impact I have had on so many students over my 32 year career. It has been rewarding to say the least. Knowing that I have made a difference in all of these lives makes it all worth it.