Three decades of Walnut High students, parents, and staff surprised retiring music director Buddy Clements during a farewell concert last Saturday night.
Clements thought he was going to dinner with a former student and fellow director Corey Wicks.
But when a limo arrived to pick him up, all his friends would say was they were headed to a show.
As Clements entered the school’s Performing Arts Center, the audience of about 400 burst into cheers.
Guests lauded the teacher who has been at the school since 1984 for his generosity, kindness, and for giving students “gentle nudges” in the right direction.
“He’s been like our second dad,” said organizer Jennifer Santillan-David, Class of 2000, who spread word about the event through a secret Facebook page.
“I felt like I wanted to do this for him because he always taught me to think out-of-the-box,” she said. “Before he retires, he deserves to see all of us as established adults and to conduct us.”
Alumni musicians dusted off their instruments to perform several pep and holiday songs during the show.
At the finale, Clements came to the stage to conduct the grads performing his favorite song, The Magnificent Seven – in a nod to the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus.
Chris LaCoste-Crumley, a 1988 alum, got a chance to thank the band teacher for his welcoming enthusiasm for the program in the early days.
“You believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she said.
Parents Lou and Joan Simonelli, Blue Thunder Band Boosters since 2001, have remained loyal volunteers long after their two children graduated.
“It’s a very successful program that teaches students to go do their best,” Lou Simonelli described.
“I grew up in the band,” recalled Kat Simonelli, Class of 2012, who remembered first watching her brother’s band competitions as a six-year-old.
“Dr. Clements is such a great person and so special to our family.”
During his tenure, Clements introduced his teenage musicians to several big name performers and directors including Maynard Ferguson, Bobby Shew, Ricky Lawson, Glenn Miller Band, and Elmer Bernstein.
“He raised the bar in our entire Fine Arts program,” retired grade level coordinator Scott Cassells said.
“Thank you for your guidance, inviting Glen Miller Orchestra to our stage, shared memories, and the “How to Train a Dragon” field show,” said 2013 grad Katie Takahashi who currently studies music at ULCA.
“You’re an inspiration to all of us!”
“There’s nobody like Buddy Clements,” said Wicks who was saluted for his 20 years at the school.
“It’s a real blessing in life to be able do what you love for a living. And to do it with my best friend has been amazing.”
“I’m overwhelmed and humbled. This has been a super surprise!” Clements said.
“I knew this is where I needed to spend a good chunk of my life. I’m so proud of all my students.”