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Teachers showcase extensive passion, appreciation through musical mastery

Staff highlight diverse talents around campus through creating original tracks, live performances
Julia Satterthwaite/used with permission

As the sun sets on a packed crowd at Marsh Manor in Redwood City, journalism teacher Brian Wilson and the Vida Blues Band prepare to launch into another song. Soon after he starts drumming to the rhythm of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” the rest of the band joins in.

Like Wilson, many teachers have a love of music, whether it be performing, creating or practicing.

Wilson broke a hiatus from playing drums when he performed with Paly teachers in a show hosted by the music department in 2018. The five of them later created the band Willy and the Four Boys, which disbanded during the pandemic. Wilson now plays the drums for the Vida Blues Band, which formed in the spring of 2021.

Wilson said his favorite part about being in a band is the bonds he made with other members.

“A lot of being in a band is the camaraderie that you build: the friendships, the connections that you forge, beyond just the music,” Wilson said.

Wilson also said he especially enjoys playing music in public.

“I’m always intrigued by the fact that I feel like we’re doing something on a fairly regular basis that not very many other people ever do in their lives,” Wilson said.

During his first show with Willy and the Four Boys, Wilson said he felt an energy in the crowd that he hasn’t fully experienced again since.

“You could feel it,” Wilson said. “There was electricity.”

Wilson also said after this first gig, one of his friend approached him, reminding him of how music could bring people together.

“He was sweaty and tired,  jumping up and down and dancing, going crazy to the music,” Wilson said. “I’ll never forget this. He said, ‘I think we all really needed this. We all needed this release of energy.’”

Biology teacher Elizabeth Brimhall’s love for singing has taken her across the world.

As a member of the Peninsula Cantare — a community chorale — Brimhall has toured in Spain, Ireland and the Baltics, which all her to learn about different cultures.

“On a choir tour, one of the time slots will be going to cultural sites, museums, historic sites and exploring the country, usually with a local guide,” Brimhall said.

Brimhall also serves as the director of her church’s choir and said she appreciates the sense of community it gives her.

“The nice thing about directing choirs is it’s really lovely forging a community for choir, and having them be responsive and able to take basic notes on the page and make it into beautiful music through your interpretation,” Brimhall said.

Economics teacher Grant Blackburn said he started playing music in high school when his friend let him borrow his electric guitar. A month later, Blackburn bought his own and has not stopped playing since.

“I played all the way through my senior year in high school, all the way to college, all the way to now,” Blackburn said. “I play every day.”

Blackburn also played in Willy and the Four Boys. He also enjoys playing original, in-the-moment music.

“I like improvising, getting together with other people and just making something up on the spot,” Blackburn said.

Like Blackburn, from creating electronic projects filled with synthesizers to playing traditional rock and roll, English teacher Keith Tocci said he makes a wide variety of music.

Often playing in the moment, Tocci said he enjoys producing music when two ideas come together in unexpected ways.

“You teach your muscles how to do the basic things, and then you can surprise yourself with what you can come up with,” Tocci said. “It’s that kind of creative pursuit (that) shows you there’s more going on in you that you’re aware of, that you can produce these new things out of nowhere.”

Tocci said he enjoys creating music by himself because it allows him to produce more authentic music.

“Your understanding of your own musical interests goes deeper than what you think someone else likes,” Tocci said.

For math teacher Zachary Barnes experimenting with multi-track recording is one of his current passions.

“What’s funny about music production is you can spend your whole life doing it and still find things to like to improve, as is true of most art,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the process of creating music is more satisfying than the completion of it.

“It has a social aspect to it, but also has a creative exploration part of it,” Barnes said.  “Honestly, there’s a therapy version of it too because you don’t sing about the days that went well, you sing about the things that you’re conflicted about, the confusing parts of life.”

And Barnes said music has been an integral part of his life.

“I’ve done two things obsessively: one of them is teaching, and one of them is making music,” Barnes said. “I’ve made a lot of money teaching math, and I’ve made no money making music. But for me, it’s never been about money. It’s been about quality of life. My life is so much better and richer because music exists.”

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Isabella Bian
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