Monday, April 25, 2011

Lunch with Mr. Almanza (our Mr. Holland)

Most people assume only a large team could pull off everything that we do, but in reality Orchestra Nova has a small administrative staff; just a handful us are in the office full time. We come from a variety of different backgrounds, career paths and generations, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered the musical connection with my colleague Erin Oleno.

Earlier this year I was on the phone speaking with my former high school band director, Richard Almanza, regarding some music that I was lending to his school orchestra. After I hung up the phone I heard “were you just talking with Mr. A-l-m-a-n-z-a?” Soon Erin and I realized that we had the same music teacher, nearly a decade apart and at different high schools in San Diego County. I was a band student at Helix High School in La Mesa in the mid-1980s and Erin was a choir student in the early-90s in Escondido.

After realizing this connection, we started reminiscing about musical days gone by and talking about the powerful impact a dedicated music teacher could have. I attribute my 20-plus years in the performing arts to not only my years as an energetic, young tuba player, but also to the positive guidance and confidence I received from my band director. Like in many good movies, it’s the football coach or school counselor or English teacher that shapes a student’s experience in high school and who has a life-changing and lasting impact on them. Erin has said that knowing she was selected to sing the National Anthem at graduation kept her spirits (and attendance) up during her final year of high school.

Both Erin and I always knew we were destined to work in the arts, but we never would have guessed that we also share the teacher who nurtured our passion.

After coordinating schedules, the three of us finally found time to meet over lunch. Sitting across the table, Erin and I both felt that his calm demeanor and bright smile was still there after so many years – refreshingly unchanged. Even though he has inspired thousands of young music students over his more than twenty years as a teacher, we still felt like we were the most important people he was talking with that day. As we parted, he reminded us that it was okay to call him “Richard” instead of “Mr. Almanza.” We’re not sure about that…

By Paige Satter, Concerts and Education Manager

Richard Almanza is currently Instrumental Music Director for Valhalla High School