I am staying in this very warm September day. I have spent a great deal of time online looking at my pictures, reading posts to my web pages, and adding friends to my Facebook account. This time has allowed me to review and remember times and people over the last 54 years.
Last weekend was the 50th reunion of the Highland High School class of ’64. I was a member of that class of proud “Hornets”, and we had a terrific senior year. Highlights of the year for me included some wonderful personal accomplishments. In the fall, I auditioned for and made the Albuquerque Youth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the great Dr. Kurt Frederich. Shortly after that I also auditioned for All-State and was placed in the New Mexico All-State Concert Band. During the year, in addition to these two prestigious groups, I played trumpet in the HHS Symphonic Band, the HHS Symphony Orchestra, the pit orchestra for the musical “Pajama Game” and the HHS Dance Band. Perhaps the highest musical honor was when my band director, Wallace Cleaveland placed me in charge of the brass sextet and entered us in the District 7 Regional and State Solo and Ensemble Festivals where we won superior ratings and medals of excellence for our performance of “Symphony for Brass” by Victor Ewald. It was with great sadness that I was unable to attend our 50th reunion due to other commitments.
Ironically, the day after the reunion closed, Nancy and I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico after receiving word of the death of my very close friend Tim Whalen. I was asked to be a pallbearer which I was honored to do. It was a sad three days of driving over 1,000 miles, staying in Tim’s home overnight, meeting with the family again after several years and meeting many of Tim’s friends and acquaintances. My dear wife Nancy was supportive and made it all work. I otherwise might not have had the energy to drive it alone.
Nancy lost her father on Good Friday of this year, and has been actively involved in organizing the sale of his home, the organization of his personal records, working at a yard sale in Simi with her sister to sell off furniture and other memorabilia and finally filing all of her mother’s vintage sheet music…over 1,000 titles.
I have recently been dealing with additional physical challenges, and am presently awaiting some tests that will determine how I will proceed physically in the future. I mention all of this to tell you about how lucky I am to have lived a wonderful life as student, teacher, player, composer, arranger, commissioner, director and husband. I look forward to many more years of accomplishments as I try to age as gracefully as possible. Let me tell you about it.
As a student, I was privileged to attend Highland High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was at that time one of the top rated scholastic institutions in the nation. It had top notch students, a terrific faculty, outstanding athletic and arts departments and many students who went on to become “famous” folks. I graduated 104th out of a class of 749 seniors with a 3.68 GPA.
I was fortunate after graduation to attend the University of New Mexico for my B.M.E. degree and graduated with a 3.88 GPA in 1968. During those four years, I participated in several ensembles including Orchestra, Band, Jazz Band, University Chorus, Brass Choir, Brass Quintet and ran my own Jazz group, the Ed Wolfe Trio. In the Summer of 1968, I began work on my M.M. degree in composition and was quickly hired by the Albuquerque Public Schools to teach instrumental music at Grant Jr. High School. I was tenured at Grant and during that tenure, I also completed my M.M. degree with the publication of my masters thesis “Caverna,” a musical tour of the fabulous Carlsbad Caverns in Southern New Mexico.
During my tenure at Grant Jr. High School, I was able to establish a high powered Junior High band program that grew from 45 students to over 200 during the years from 1969-1974. My concert bands and jazz bands received the highest ratings at festival and some of my students even informally attended summer band, transfer band and music theory classes when other kids were on vacation. Those were great years with terrific kids! It was during those years that I was elected to the NMMEA vice-president job presiding over District 7 festivals. I also became a state officer in N.A.J.E.
When my musical mentor, Fenton Katz left Manzano High School, I was asked to apply to replace him. I had sent some terrific players to Manzano during the previous four years, and many of them were still in the program when I arrived. This was my first High School experience and I made some rookie blunders, but during that year we placed 38 students into All-State and performed several concerts with the wind ensemble and symphonic band as well as running performances with two jazz ensembles. We also worked with the orchestra and choral department to produce the musical West Side Story (using the original book) in the round. It was a hectic year, and at it’s conclusion, I decided to move on to a terrific middle school in the Northeast Heights.
During the fall of 1975 through the Spring of 1977, I was most fortunate to direct the instrumental music ensembles at Hoover Middle School. Hoover fed Eldorado High School, a musical powerhouse under the direction of symphony trumpet artist Ron Lipka. I took to the job immediately. I inherited sweet kids who were hungry to learn everything I knew about music. The program was not too large but was musically competent when I arrived. The previous band director, Wayne Sharp was the principal horn player in the symphony and the Hoover kids had a nice start. I started a jazz program to supplement the concert bands, and had my first taste of teaching string orchestra. The orchestra kids were terrific and readily accepted this “bandman” as their teacher and friend. By the end of that first year, the Hoover Music Department was definitely on Albuquerque’s musical “map” and by the end of the 2nd year, it was the premier middle school program in the city achieving superior ratings at every festival and receiving a fabulous score of 97 at the West Mesa Jazz Festival…the 2nd highest score of the day. The highest score was achieved by the University of New Mexico Jazz Ensemble! It was while I was at Hoover that I also got involved with A.C.L.O.A., the Light Opera company in Albuquerque. I was so pleased to direct the pit orchestra for Jesus Christ Superstar and 1776. I also played trumpet in the pit for other shows including 1st trumpet on Most Happy Fella. Those were very happy years for me and I could have stayed at Hoover enjoying those little kids forever, but I didn’t. When I left my Hoover Kids, they were 12 and 13 years old. (When I saw them this June, they were in their early 50’s!)
I moved to California in the fall of 1977 to rejoin my family who had, by then, relocated to the LA area. After several interviews and a couple of offerings, I decided to take the job at San Dimas High School. I was into building programs and the San Dimas program was a mess! There were only 28 students on the roll sheets and ten of them were freshmen. The musical instruments were in complete disarray and many were piled in the middle of the room, some not in cases and most not secured in the cabinets. I decided that I was home. This was a program that needed guidance, and I was someone who needed a challenge. I was hired the week before band camp and had three days to prepare music, instruments, uniforms, folders, jazz literature and marching shows. I did not sleep. Some nights I did not go home. Well we got through the year. When our first rehearsal took place during band camp, the kids couldn’t even get through the Fight Song. We had to play an assembly the first week of school and our featured tune was “Work Song,” an easy jazz arrangement done by Pat Rhoads for his middle school band in Albuquerque. During the years between the fall of 1977 and the spring of 1985, the San Dimas Band program won over 100 awards for musical excellence, played in the Music Olympics, won the Reno Jazz Festival, and toured out of state. They were a joy to teach. I am proud to say that I am still friends with most of those kids, and many from the original 1977 band came to my retirement p!arty in 2008.
When Robin Snyder retired from Bonita High School in 1985, I was asked to move over to fill his position. Bonita was a Jazz powerhouse under Robin’s direction, but the marching band was nonexistent, and the concert band needed work. We had some good years during the four years I worked there, but although the room was actually a real band room (the room at SDHS had been a double wide portable with 8 foot ceilings), there was no air conditioning, the equipment was in bad shape, the library had tons of missing parts and the challenges were enormous. We had really great kids and they worked hard. Slowly the program began to take shape, but in 1989, we took a tour to San Diego with too few chaperones and “kids will be kids.” When we returned home, I did not feel like I had been supported by parents or administration, so I decided to move on. Thus began 11 wonderful years at Lone Hill Middle School feeding my old school, San Dimas High.
The Bonita Unified School District serves the cities of LaVerne and San Dimas. Bonita HS is in LaVerne and is fed by Ramona Middle School and 5 elementary schools. San Dimas HS is fed by Lone Hill Middle School and 3 elementary schools. While at Bonita, I taught at Ramona as well, and while at San Dimas, I taught at the 3 elementary schools as well. My assignment at Lone Hill originally was to teach Jazz and the elementary schools. The concert bands were under the direction of Barney Martinez. We team taught this way for a short time, but eventually Barney moved to the elementary programs full time which gave me the entire program at Lone Hill. I loved it! For the first time in my life, I had a full time all band position at one site, and the room actually was almost a real band room…with an office, practice rooms and storage. I must have died and gone to band director’s heaven! During those 11 wonderful years, the bands competed, recorded, premiered pieces, had guest soloists, toured the State of California, competed at the Reno Jazz Festival and at one time or another EVERY jazz festival in California. The program mushroomed to 4 concert bands, 2 jazz bands and volunteer classes in jazz combo, solo and ensembles, music theory and beginning composition! It was my little conservatory at Lone Hill and these were 11, 12 and 13 year olds. Everywhere we went, we had great ratings with all our groups and when combined with my wife’s choirs at the Heritage Music Festivals, we won several sweepstakes honors as well as individual awards. The Wolfe household was a happy one. One of the great honors we had at Lone Hill was to represent the State of California at the Festival of the States in Washington DC. We performed at several historical venues including in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I am proud to still be in contact with a large number of those great young players.
During the years from 1985 to 2000, the instrumental program at San Dimas High School had pulled back, and the dropout rate from my middle school to the high school was enormous! Something had to be done. When the job opened up, I was asked to be on the committee to hire a new director by then principal, Kristine Kulow. During that phone conversation, I, as an aside, asked her if she would like me to come back to the high school. She hired me on the spot, and when I returned to San Dimas High School, I took 67 freshmen with me!
My last few years of teaching at San Dimas High School were very interesting and rewarding. I told Kris that I would come back up for 6 years but I did not want to teach in that portable again. (I had begun to lose some hearing during the first 8 years in that room.) As luck would have it, the auto shop no longer had a program and had become a 60’x60’ storage room with a small storage room where parts were stored and a larger storage area for tools and spare parts. Kris went out of her way to renovate that monstrosity into a usable hall for my band program to re-grow. I started the year in the old room, but before the football season was over, we were able to move into the auto shop. It took better than a week to move everything in my pickup truck and band trailer, but we got it done. The room had two large bay doors, so we could pull right into the room to unload. That was a plus! We lost several days of rehearsal, but gained some space.
Since the band had grown to twice its size in one year, we now had three concert bands…a freshman band of 67 (with excellent balance), a concert band of 34 (with top heavy balance) and a wind ensemble of upperclassmen with a decent balance. We marched everyone on the field. We had to fabricate equipment for the drum line converting concert snares to marching snares for the freshmen, ordering bibbers and corp style shirts for the freshmen while the older kids got the marching uniforms. It was a challenge, but we got it done. Since all of those kids had gone through my middle school program, it was an easy transition to make for me and they offered no resistance. We re-grouped, re-built, upgraded and generally started over, and the kids were enthusiastic. The parents were supportive and raised funds left and right for equipment and accessories. The District and ASB gave us a huge loan to purchase new uniforms (and never asked for complete re-payment). That was a blessing. There was a one-time financial windfall from Sacramento which enabled us to order storage cabinets and equipment for the room. That also was a blessing. We grew, we improved, we toured and we won again. We had guest soloists, we toured to Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego, Reno, Monterey, Colorado Springs, Seattle and our final tour was to Boston. Instead of giving Kris the 6 years I promised her, I stayed for 8. I was having a great time. Even after 38 years of teaching, I enjoyed going to work in the morning. I retired in 2008 feeling accomplished and ready for a slow down. Many of my former students attended my retirement party in the SDHS Gym. It was a great night. Slow down I did!
Shortly after retirement, we were walking our newly acquired dog. Our beloved Amber had died a year previously and we missed having her so much that we got what we thought was a black lab rescue. She wasn’t. Cody is an “American Pit Bull Terrier,” whatever that is. She is not as large as a lab, but she is strong as a horse and on those initial walks she would aggressively encounter everything on four legs…dogs, cats, horses and an occasional automobile! On one of these walks, she cut across me with her long leash and caused me to fall forward to the pavement losing several teeth and rearranging much of my face! After some time in the ER and several dental surgeries, I was outfitted with dentures. There went my trumpet playing future! I was so looking forward to re-forming my brass ensemble. I decided to try playing low brass and after several purchases, I was able to perform again on baritone and on Frumpet.
I spent the first few months of retirement composing music, writing articles, playing brass quintets and generally trying to keep busy. Nancy was still teaching daily, so I had to try to fill the day catching up on the things I had put on hold during my 38 year teaching career. I purchased new computer equipment and put a digital music studio together. I was contacted by a former colleague, Warren Gref who was conducting a chamber orchestra in Temecula. He was wondering if I had any works for chamber orchestra. I told him that I had a piece entitled “Teton Sketches.” It actually was not originally meant to be a chamber orchestra piece, but I was not going to pass up the opportunity to have a piece premiered so I set out to rework the piece into a chamber orchestra setting. I worked diligently during the spring and summer of 2008 and finished the work in time for Warren to rehearse it and perform it in September. The evening was a resounding success, and I felt really good about myself.
I worked with Terry Williams, a programmer in San Diego, to put together a website and helped him design the site www.edwolfemusic.com. I began reworking chamber music that I had written during my graduate work at UNM. Putting all those works on the computer was a lot of work, but proved to be worthwhile when it came time to copyright everything. My brother and I attended the ASCAP convention and I had the opportunity to meet some notable artists and performers. A highlight was meeting Alex Shapiro, a very talented young composer from the Seattle area and spending some time talking with the daughter of the esteemed conductor Arturo Toscanini.
Then some challenges began to occur…I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in December and was having some serious difficulty doing even simple actions…like walking! I found an excellent specialist in Long Beach and for several months spent some time commuting back and forth from San Dimas to Long Beach. The RA began to get under control and I began to feel better as the medication kicked in. Then, I got the call. The Bonita Unified School District wanted to hire me as a consultant to the music teachers.
That offer was a financial Godsend since I was not yet 65 and had not qualified for Medicare. The district allowed me to set my own hours, complete work on their schedule and have regular meetings with an assistant superintendent. The money was good and I was doing some good work for music education again. For the next three semesters, I had plenty to occupy my time. When the job came to an end, I again needed to find something to do. I applied for and became a Senior Citizen Commissioner for the City of San Dimas. One of my former band booster parents was the head of the San Dimas Parks and Recreation. We had worked together sponsoring the marching band competition during San Dimas Western Days. Now we were working again in support of our senior citizens. I have continued in that capacity to the present.
I missed being in front of a band! In 2011, I decided to put together a professional reading band and approached the Parks and Recreation department for a facility in which to rehearse. That was the beginning of the San Dimas Jazz Workshop Reading Band which is still meeting four years later. We have played the Music in the Park opening night twice and have had 40 rehearsals to date, meeting the third Sunday of every month.
In addition to the workshop, my brass ensemble meets every Monday afternoon reading different literature each week. We have performed many church functions at Christmas and Easter as well as special services. We have played on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day and have continued on our 7th year to play for the San Dimas Christmas Tree Lighting in December.
Now that Nancy is also retired, we have done some traveling visiting Boston, Canada, several California cities, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Seattle. My RA condition has made sleeping at hotels a challenge, so many of our trips have been short three and four day trips.
Recently, there has been a number of sad occurrences…the loss of parents, the death of students, the loss of family pets and most recently the death of close friends. These things bring everything into perspective. During the past 54 years, I have devoted myself to education, students, community, colleagues, friends and family. During the past few months Nancy and I have gotten much closer as we have seen and shared the challenges that have surrounded us and our families. She has been supportive through all of it and I love and appreciate her very much.
I do not know what the next several years hold, but one thing is certain. Whatever I am able to do, to achieve, to enjoy, will be done enjoyably and in conjunction with Nancy, family, friends, colleagues and former students with the hope and belief that it all works out the way it is supposed to and things are right with my world.
-Ed Wolfe! 9/6/2014