It hasn’t been as dramatic as “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” but retiring W-H Regional High School music teachers Devin Dondero and Donald Legge can see the difference they’ve made for students in the 20 [for Legge] or the 25 [years for Dondero] in which they have taught at the school.
“We just don’t have to see any students off at the bus depot,” Legge laughed, referring to a scene in the film revolving around a teen with Broadway dreams.
And, while they are also not anticipating an alumni orchestra performance of a secret composition on their way out the door, as in the 1995 film, they said it is gratifying that they are able to participate in selecting the three new teachers.
Legge came to W-H after a stint teaching middle school in New Bedford after teaching nothing but high school in Florida.
“Coming up here and starting with a whole new group of kids, age development wise, was just totally different and I just wasn’t used to it,” he said of the New Bedford job. “Plus I was doing more general music [there], where in Florida it was all performance.”
Dondero said former W-H music teacher Tom Oliveiri brought him to the district from Abington, where he also worked with Oliveiri.
Dondero said they are very thankful to the people of Whitman and Hanson for allowing them to work with their kids all these years.
“The townspeople in both communities have been very supportive of the program over the years,” he said.
There will be things that will be missed a bit less, such as the fundraising needed to pay copyright fees involved in performing musicals or songs from them.
Mattress sale, bake sale and pancake breakfast proceeds went toward the $12,000 to $15,000 the Show Choir has had to pay out over the last three to four years in copyright fees.
Now that their next chapter begins at the end of the school year, both say more opportunities for performance — jazz trombone for Dondero and guitar for Legge — await, bringing their musical journey full circle.
They’ll be giving some lessons, but performing is their main focus now. Dondero, who also plays bass, is part of a blues trio for bass, but said the trombone gigs pay better.
Legge said he’ll be performing and traveling, the latter more out of necessity since his daughter lives in Oregon and his dad is in Florida.
“I think we realized at the stage of our development here as music educators, it was the time to go,” Dondero said. “For two very important reasons — it’s going to be better for the department because now they’re hiring three people, which is really good because that means the department will take a huge step forward.
“And the other reason is we were just getting along in years and we wanted some younger people to come in.”
Legge said he’s been teaching for 37 years, starting his career in 1985.
Dondero is a graduate of Boston University and Legge attended Westfield State and then went to Miami.
Teaching hadn’t been their first goal in music, both initially looking toward performance.
“At first, I’d have to say I wasn’t absolutely sure [about teaching], but I decided to go for the education degree because I knew that it would be a good idea to have it, if I wanted to teach,” Dondero said. “But, then, when I started teaching, I just enjoyed it more and more.”
In college, he said he preferred hanging out with the performance majors, rather than those concentrating on education.
“They were the ones that seemed to be doing more performing — and just having more fun, I felt,” Dondero said.
“I was going to be a rock star,” Legge said with a laugh. “And I did, I hung out with that group.”
Legge’s undergrad degree was in performance and it was his master’s degree focus until his last semester when his dean asked him is he really needed a master’s to perform in a club or orchestra, and suggested switching around a few classes to get a pedagogy degree. He didn’t even have to wait to use it as a fall-back, because the day of graduation another student told him of a teaching opportunity that required guitar skills they did not have – but Legge did.
Finding that they were skilled at teaching, as well as finding that they enjoyed it, made the change all the more rewarding.
“There are some people that just can perform like crazy, but they can’t get that message out,” Legge said. “They can’t articulate how to do it and [have] the patience — I think that’s the key — and liking kids.”
They are also aware that studies endorsed by musicians, as trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has long advocated, that music can help students develop other skills such as math.
“I would definitely say our music students are probably more well-rounded, better academically, than probably most of the students here,” Dondero said. “I just think it’s that type of student.”
“We get a lot of the AP kids,” Legge said.
But he acknowledged it can create scheduling challenges as AP classes are only offered during certain periods, which can coincide with the band/chorus period.
“We borrow kids from each other,” Legge said, noting band and chorus kids are often moving between the two music rooms.
Their advice for the new music staff at W-H?
Legge advises keeping an open mind.
“The best thing is not to change everything that came before,” he said. “I would think you’d want to build off the strengths that were here already.”
“We’re happy to see that [the district] will be hiring two, full-time high school teachers,” Legge said on Monday, June 13, noting interviews were beginning that day. There were six to eight candidates for the position and Legge and Dondero participated in those interviews.
Another will be hired to direct the middle school band program out of Whitman Middle School, but serving both towns. There are already two full-time chorus teachers at the middle schools.