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This Day in My History

2001:  Prison Time
2002:  The Wages of Sin
2003:  This Nearly Was Mine
2004:  What Do You Say to a Naked Doctor?
2005 A Musical Meme

2006:  Psst...Psst...Psst...


IN MY OPINION
"Let's Murder Marsha"

Books Read in 2007

Updated 2/28:
"The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern"

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" Let the Sunshine"

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Walt's Retirement


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"MR. BRUNELLE"

19 March 2007

Once upon a time in a little town in the central valley of California there was a quiet little unassuming man who taught music in the town's only high school.  He was the original absent-minded professor and nobody, to look at him, would ever think that he was anybody special.

His name is Richard Brunelle, and he changed the lives of hundreds of young people in this town.

A few months ago, Walt and I attended an event for the 25th anniversary of the Davis School Arts Foundation, of which I was an early member.  Dick and his wife also attended the event, at which members of the Davis High School Madrigal choir performed.

Dick founded the award-winning Madrigal choir and yet one of the main the organizers of the event, who was new to arts at the high school had no idea that he had been involved.  Someone from our era got up and introduced Dick, who made some speech about how he had never watched the madrigal choir rehearse and how he hoped someone would invite him.

He retired several years ago after a long and illustrious career and seems to have vanished into obscurity, revered by all of us who had the privilege of being part of the "Brunelle era," and unknown by the people who are carrying on the traditions that he established.

(Dick taught at the high school so long that at the start of one year he thought one of the kids in one of his classes looked familiar.  "I think I taught your brother," he said to the kid.  "No, Mr. Brunelle," said the kid.  "It was my father.")

In truth, I didn't know Dick all that well.  Perhaps I had a more intimate relationship with him than some parents, only because he was also a performer with the Davis Comic Opera Company and so I occasionally saw him socially outside of school events, but we really were not friends at all, so I can't sit here and list all of his achievements or talk about the highlights of his career.

But I'm thinking fondly about Dick today because I just watched a videotape of the 1988 high school Pops Concert.  The annual Pops Concert was the high point of the school's musical year, when all the performing groups (and he led most of them) got together and put on a huge show, much of which the kids directed and choreographed themselves.

This particular year, David and Tom were both members of the high school Jazz Choir (Paul had also been part of the Jazz Choir and Marta had sung with the Madrigals; Jeri played with the jazz band, which was led by a different teacher) and it was always fun, at those concerts, to watch the affection between students and teacher at the conclusion.

We had one of our most memorable experiences with Dick, when the Jazz Choir went to New Orleans to compete in a competition at Tulane University (we won).  I talked about that trip here and posted my favorite picture from that time.

(I've thought about this guy a lot since Katrina and wondered whatever happened to him.)

I wrote a little about our trips to Disneyland with the Jazz choir too, when Paul and his best friend Kag did their famous duet.

We always tried to go along on Jazz Choir trips because we loved hanging out with the kids and loved watching them perform.  (We also went as chaperones on marching band trips when Jeri played clarinet in the marching band, in the years before anybody was part of the jazz choir).

I rarely see Dick these days.  Our paths rarely cross, but occasionally I see him walking around town, usually with someone helping him.  He has had health problems and now leans heavily on a cane.  I spoke with him once when he passed by the dog park, and he couldn't remember my name (not surprising, I suppose, given the thousands of people he has interacted with over the years).

It saddens me to know that the kids in the music program now have no idea that they are living a legacy that this special man created.  And it makes me so very happy to know that our kids were the beneficiaries of his passion for music.

PHOTO OF THE DAY 

Thanks, Dick.

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