I brought music into the Man Cave because I was brought up with it. My love for music began in childhood but hit an early roadblock. A seemingly big, impenetrable roadblock in the form of a very negative orchestra teacher. I’ll spare you the details but our local junior high and high school orchestras dwindled from 40 members to 4 in less than a handful of years.
Enter Joel Westgaard.
He’d already established himself as a solid music teacher at a nearby school, and he brought his precise, fair, smart — with just enough sarcastic wit — teaching style to my school when I’d nearly given up on the music program. What he had left to work with wasn’t much. We were a tiny group of technically good musicians. But we were oh, so negative. Worn down. Imagine what he faced working with a small group of young teens, who don’t score high on the confidence meter to begin with, who’d been bullied for several years by the former teacher who was supposed to nurture creativity, passion and — of course — beautiful music.
Mr. Westgaard would have none of it. Our attitudes, I mean. Having overheard us complaining about how “badly” we played at a concert he scolded us in the most brilliant way. We were good. HE was good. WE were going to just have to accept that we played well and were even going to play BETTER. He demanded it. Because he knew we could do it. And then we did. A small group of motley teens grew into a LARGE group of — well, still motley teens — but one that had passion and confidence. We had our voices back. We had our music back.
Mr. Westgaard would go on to nurture musicians at Curtis High School in University Place, Washington for decades. He was often accompanied by his beautiful and musically talented wife, Paula. I often wonder if when she got married she envisioned all the high school music events and field trips she’d no doubt be wedded to.
I’m writing this during the week that Mr. Westgaard gave his last performance as music teacher of Curtis High School. He’s retiring after touching so many lives: 40 or more, every year, for decades. I thank him for that. But mostly, I thank him for giving music back to that little group of motley teens so many years ago. God bless and keep you and Paula, Mr. Westgaard.
This has been an actual conversation in the Man Cave. What’s the Man Cave? Read this.