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Former students honor director with surprise concert

Sep 01, 2016 12:19PM
About 150 Springville High School alumni crowded onto the SHS stage on Aug. 6 to surprise their former orchestra director with a concert honoring his efforts to help them play and love music.

Former SHS Director of Orchestras Sam Tsugawa was greeted with a standing ovation from the audience and the musicians on stage as he entered the SHS auditorium at the beginning of the concert. Tsugawa said afterward that he had heard that some of his former students were planning something, but he had no idea the event would be so large.

“I’m deeply honored,” he said.

Tsugawa retired at the end of the 2015-16 school year after teaching music at SHS for 27 years. Hundreds of students went through his program, and Springville became known as one of the best high school orchestra programs in Utah. His influence over students will continue, however, as he recently began working as an associate professor of music education at Brigham Young University.

The idea for the surprise concert came from Kjersti Jones Christensen, a 2008 SHS graduate who went through Tsugawa’s program. The word got out and former students from throughout Tsugawa’s 27 years of teaching began meeting to rehearse for the concert under the direction of Paul Wells, Gavin Fulwider and Dustin Grady, three of Tsugawa’s former students who are now music educators themselves.

The music was a collection of favorites that Tsugawa had his students play over the years, including “The Lord of the Dance,” a piece that became the traditional concert closer for Tsugawa’s orchestras. This piece was the closing number at the Aug. 6 concert as well, with the performers inviting Tsugawa up to direct them in the piece.

“Sam has been (and continues to be) the most influential teacher I have had through all of my schooling,” Christensen said. “Five years of orchestra, after-school fiddling and who knows how many concerts, early morning rehearsals, three orchestra tours and many sessions of advice even after high school as I was working through my degree in music. I can say without hesitation that Sam is absolutely phenomenal, incredible, caring and dedicated.”

At the surprise concert, Tsugawa was seated at the front of the auditorium and the alumni, all dressed in concert black, began their performance. Acting as emcees for the event were Bryan “Doc” Tobler, former director of bands at SHS, and Patrice Bolen, who served for many years as color guard instructor for the SHS Marching Band.

Tsugawa originally came to SHS as a substitute teacher, Tobler and Bolen told the audience. A former drum major for the BYU Marching Band, Tsugawa main instrument was trombone. This made him an unlikely candidate for the director of orchestras position at the school, but the offer came, and Tsugawa accepted.

Tobler said Tsugawa took lessons in the different string instruments so he could learn to play and really understand them. While building the SHS orchestra program, he also helped out with the SHS Marching Band. Bolen said she estimated that between orchestra and band tours over the years, Tsugawa had traveled more than 60,000 miles in charter buses.

“It started as a job and it ended up being a great life,” Tsugawa said of his time at SHS. He called the experience of directing former students again “surreal.”

He said he looked forward to instructing upcoming teachers at BYU so hopefully they could have a teaching career like the one he enjoyed.