San Diego schools salute conductor David Amos


Conductor David Amos with Katherine Nakamura, president of the Cowles Mountain Community Foundation

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

David Berman reads a plaque honoring David and Lee Amos, standing alongside

SAN DIEGO –David Amos, who is best known to the Jewish community as the conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and as a music columnist for San Diego Jewish World, on Thursday evening received a plaque naming an orchestra pit at Patrick Henry High School in his honor, and became the namesake for an annual award that will be given each year to a qualifying orchestra or band teacher in the San Diego Unified School District.

Amos was the first music teacher at Patrick Henry High School, serving from 1968 to 1971 in classrooms and in what some people called the “cafeterium” but which he dubbed the “auditeria” – a cafeteria with a small stage appended to it, on which musical and dramatic programs were presented until a performing arts center was inaugurated last November at the high school.

David Berman, who headed a drive with his wife Sharlene to raise $20,000 to have the orchestra pit named for Amos, presented to Amos a plaque that read in part: “In recognition of lifetime achievement in conducting symphony orchestras around the world and producing great recordings in classical music and imparting musical knowledge to the youth of the community his friends and admirers present this tribute on the occasion of the dedication of the PHAME concert hall orchestra pit named in his honor on April 27, 2017.”

Kevin Beiser, a trustee of the San Diego Unified School District, also announced that “the board of education is going to be honoring David Amos’s legacy with an annual award to a band or orchestra teacher every year that embodies the values and passion of David Amos.

“The David Amos Music Award will be a district wide recognition to keep his legacy forever,” said Beiser.

The awards were announced at a reception for donors at the school’s new performing arts center in ceremonies that also included the school’s principal Listy Gillingham and former school board trustee Katherine Nakamura, who now serves as president of the Cowles Mountain Community Foundation which to date has raised $400,000 for PHAME (Patrick Henry Arts, Media and Entertainment Center.)

Matt Kalal and the Patrick Henry High School Band

The current, 20-year director of instrumental music at Patrick Henry High School, Matthew Kalal, led the school’s band in a rendition of Charles Carter’s Sonata for Winds, and later conducted the high school musicians in renditions of the school’s alma mater and fight song, both of which were originally composed by Amos and given a new arrangement by Kalal 10 years ago.

In his response, Amos mixed humorous anecdotes with a plea for more support for music in the schools.

He told how in the early years of the school’s music program, band members sold light bulbs to illuminate the need for music. An incentive to sell as many light bulbs as possible was allowing the winner of the contest to push a cream pie right into Amos’s face.

Recalled Amos: “The trouble is two or three things went wrong. First of all, I had a beard. Second of all they kept the can for the spray of the cream at the school during the weekend, so it rotted, because it needed to be refrigerated. I got this stinking mess on my face at the same hour that my daughter was being born at the hospital. I had to go home and take a shower, but I continued to smell for three days — that stuff wouldn’t go away!”

On a more serious note, Amos said that ever since Californians enacted property tax cuts in the form of the Howard Jarvis Initiative (Proposition 13) in 1978, schools have been hard-pressed to support music programs. This, he added, led to a generation of adults who never received music education, and whose children are now in school. Amos said many of these adults, never having benefitted from music programs, don’t understand the value they can be to their children.

“So we have to try to close that gap by making good music and making it available so youngsters in junior high and high schools have instruments, have good instrumental and choral music education and that they can create love for it (music) for the future. This country, in general, will have less problems, less crime, more respect for the arts, if we give music its proper place!”

Amos said he treasures his time at Patrick Henry as much as he has valued subsequent stages of his career, including conducting the Jewish Community Center Orchestra, which later became the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra; and making numerous CDs with professional orchestras around the world, among them the London Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic.

Nakamura mentioned that one upcoming expense will be for “a net” to cover the orchestra pit so no one falls into it from the stage. This prompted Amos, a notorious punster, to comment the program already had “Annette” – a reference to actress Annette Bening, a Patrick Henry High School graduate and contributor to PHAME.

San Diego School District trustee Kevin Beiser and Patrick Henry HS principal Listy Gillingham.

Beiser reiterated an announcement made on Wednesday that the school district, which had distributed tentative pink slips to numerous employees as the result of a projected $1.4 million shortfall in state subsidies, has found alternatives to laying teachers off. He explained that more than 1,000 employees have been induced to take early retirement, with one full year’s salary as a pension bonus, creating vacancies enabling the school board to rescind many of the pink slips. A number of non-teaching programs at the central offices have been closed, he said.

Beiser said various elementary school programs will be protected from layoffs, and added that he believes he will be successful also in protecting music education as the school board continues to fine tune the budget.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted via [email protected]

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