Remembering Mr. Downs

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Last night, Thursday, February 8th, the Terra Nova High School Symphonic Band along with the Vallemar/Cabrillo Band and Ingrid B. Lacy/Ocean Shore Wind Symphony performed magnificently at the All-City Concert in honor of Mr. Jerry Downs. As many of you know, Mr. Downs passed away last September, and his presence, in our school district and community, has been sorely missed. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have been very pleased with the performances of his students and many of his former students in the Terra Nova Band.

Ms. Samantha Johns directed the Vallemar/Cabrillo Band in two magical pieces: “Zia” and “Celtic Air and Dance”. Mr. Benjamin Gower directed the IBL/OSS Wind Symphony in the delightful, yet melancholic “Nottingham Sketches”. And Mr. Brian Lewsadder brilliantly directed the TN Symphonic Band in their two pieces: “Encanto” and “Galop”.

Peppered through the performances, many folks gave heartfelt eulogies to Mr. Downs. Jared Steele remembered his first encounter with Mr. Downs: “You play the clarinet? You’re in the Marching Band.” Jessica Hidalgo remembered how he motivated his students to extend themselves. TN Senior Isaac Lipsky commented that Mr. Downs was the glue that held the band together. Band parents Carolyn Lee and Crystal Pepin both spoke on his dedication and commitment to the students. Crystal also read messages from a couple of Mr. Downs’ SoCal students. Travis, a professional drummer, said “he (Mr. Downs) didn’t get paid extra, he did it because he loved us.” Old friends, Grace Wolfert and Jennifer Samujh, told stories from the days before his work in Northern California.

Four pieces of music were wonderfully played by all three bands. “Washington Post March” reminded me of my childhood summers at the Russian River when my dad would play endlessly all the Sousa marches. They followed this with the powerful “Incantation and Ritual” and the delightful “The Tempest”.  Finally, and very appropriately, Principal Thomas Stafford directed all the bands in a sublime version of “Abide With Me”, a particular favorite of Mr. Downs.

I hope Mr. Downs was pleased with the stellar performances of all the students. His legacy, like the lowly daffodil, will not only continue to blossom beautifully, but will  reproduce prolifically. The three young music teachers who directed marvelously tonight certainly have big shoes to fill, but from tonight’s skillful execution, they are well on their way to adding to Mr. Downs’ prolific heritage.

 

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The Day The Music Died

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Sleepy Pacifica woke up this foggy Thursday morning still reeling from the devastating news of the passing of Mr. Jerry Downs. As the community grapples with this irreplaceable loss; teachers, parents and administrators struggle to find words and comfort not only for themselves, but, most of all, for Mr. Downs’ hundreds of students. As the cornerstone of the music program at IBL and Ocean Shore for the past 15 years and pushing 30 years with the District overall, Mr. Downs was a monumental influence and daily presence in the lives of Pacifica’s middle school students. My own daughters were in band, and my youngest, who is suffering his loss, is more concerned for her friends who have been in band for more than two years and are overwhelmed with grief.

 We all know how important music is in our lives. Its ministry extends far and wide, it gladdens, it soothes, it heals. When Karl Paulnack was at The Boston Conservatory, he shared in his Contemplation of Music address about what his community did on September 12, 2001, “At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome.” Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.”

 I think Mr. Downs understood the magnitude music has in our lives, and gave his life for its cultivation in the best of our gardens: the hearts of our children. He not only cultivated a love for music, but also an appreciation for its execution, its execution with precision, excellence and mastery. He worked hard with the students, his class was not an easy A. He asked for hard work, and appreciated it when the students stepped up and mastered the lessons. His Spring Concert was the highlight of the middle school year. The dozens of trophies testify to the dedication, the drive and boundless energy Mr. Downs brought to his work. In The Voiceless, Oliver Wendell Homes wrote, “Alas for those that never sing, But die with all their music in them!” That was not going to happen if you were in Mr. Downs’ class. He awoke the love of music in our children’s hearts and souls.

 As we recover from the jolting shock of his death and continue to mourn his passing, it is a comfort to know that the seeds of music appreciation that he sowed in our kids’ lives will someday blossom, blossom when they remember … whenever they hear a familiar piece or understand a composition; his memory will guide and comfort them for the rest of their lives. For some, these seeds will yield musical fruit for a new generation.

 Although for the Pacifica community, yesterday was the day the music died, yet, thankfully, the music will live on in the hearts of our kids and the thousands of students who continue to love music because of Mr. Downs. Our condolences to his family, their loss is unimaginable.

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