Music gives flight to the soul.
That’s how David Leach sees life as he pours his passion into the classroom at Pioneer High School. Since 2002, the fruits of his teachings have spilled from the classroom into the world. Literally. His pupils have performed in Canada, Austria, China and all over the United States.
“Mr. Leach took us to [perform at] Carnegie Hall when I was a freshman,” said 17-year-old trombone player Mattea Turrenne, of a New York concert that included the performance, plus excursions to Central Park and the Statue of Liberty. “It was incredible.”
With fostering from Leach, Mattea has grown as a musician and a person, saying that Leach fosters the value of hard work through positive reinforcement and a lighthearted classroom atmosphere.
“Mr. Leach doesn’t hold back,” she said, “He tells a lot of jokes. He’s funny and encouraging and uplifting; he loves everyone and everyone loves him.”
Pioneer’s band program comprises four performing ensembles – Varsity Band, Concert Bands, Symphony Band and Jazz Band. Forever humble, Leach is quick to give credit to all of his young musicians for their dedication to music in high school and beyond.
“They are truly inspiring,” he said. “My students are in all facets of life. From board room, to surgery suite, from the garage to the classroom, They continue to live in each moment, live life to the fullest, support the arts, and even go on to teach their own kids to appreciate music.”
As years pass, Leach embraces the impact of musical evolution on curriculum, saying that music education continues to reinvent itself to remain relevant in today’s educational climate.
“Music is unique, as it stimulates both sides of the brain,” he said. “It’s physical, mental, emotional and mathematical. Growing up in the late ‘70s and ‘80s was magical because of film composers like John Williams, John Barry, and Jerry Goldsmith, who’s film soundtracks captured the world.”
On that note, some things change and some do not. But it’s mostly for the best.
“The incredible thing is those amazing soundtracks are just as relevant today,” Leach said. “Paul Hindemith, Percy Grainger, Gustav Holst were all introduced to me as a middle school and high school student. They were so influential that I still program those amazing composers today.”
Lydia Betz (left) is taking her four years of high school training with her when she enters the post-secondary stage of her life after her 2018 graduation. The Symphony clarinet player and Jazz Band singer began her musical career on a piano stool.
“I started piano lessons when I was 3,” she said. “Next year I plan on attending Western Michigan University. I will be majoring in music therapy. I hope to use my talents and love for music to help others.”
Leach is responsible, according to Lydia, for cultivating the auditioning skills she posses after her experience in his band program. Carole King, Elton John, Billy Joel and Taylor Swift remain among her favorite artists, but over the past four years, she’s also developed a fondness for classical music.
“The band room is a place I can always go to feel safe and cared for,” Lydia said. “Mr Leach knows how to make us laugh and it’s easy to see how much he cares for every one of his students.
“He takes band seriously, but also shows us how to have a good time doing it,” she continued. “He has helped me grow my vocal talents and given me the confidence to use my voice in a way that is very fun.”
Leach believes that Mattea and Lydia are among many young people who will soon step into the world and change it for the better.
“I am fortunate to teach some of the most intelligent, talented, kind students in the country,” he says. “I’m so proud of them.”
Leach began his teaching career at Ypsilanti High School in 1988 and spent 14 years there before coming to Ann Arbor. He was appointed Chair of the Pioneer High School Performing Arts Department in 2006, and Fine Arts Department Chair in 2013.
He has been included five times in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. The University of Michigan chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia honored him in 2000 with the Pendleton Memorial Award for outstanding achievement in music education and he has been nominated four times for Disney’s American Teacher Award.
For more information on the Pioneer Music Department, including dates for upcoming concerts and festivals, visit www.aapioneerbands.org
The Leach File:
David Leach earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education at Eastern Michigan University. His Pioneer High School Symphony, Concert, and Jazz Bands have won overall festival championships at every national event they’ve ever entered, including the Festival of Music in Boston and Dixie Classic Festivals in Orlando. He’s been showered with prestigious honors and accolades throughout his tenure. The Pioneer Music Department was named the National GRAMMY Signature School as the country’s top public high school music program two times. Leach is a member of the National Association For Music Education, the National Band Association, the American School Band Directors Association, and he currently serves as president of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association’s District XII.
Main photo by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor