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Band director has mixed support from his students

| Sunday, May 25, 2003

The tough-minded approach of North Allegheny High School's marching band director has drawn mixed reviews from students in his first -- and possibly his last -- year on the job.

About a dozen students and parents lobbied last week during a school board meeting for David Patterson to be retained in the post he took over last year after 29 years as the band director at the district's Carson Middle School. Backers described him as a dedicated and enthusiastic leader who has made the band better.

"He's an amazing man, and he has a very strong sense of devotion. Marching band is his life," said Dan Hillard, 17, a junior from McCandless. "He's a tough man, and he's very blunt, but it's not offensive and it's not bad, it's the real world. He's improved the band a million-fold."

But detractors -- including a graduating senior who spoke out last week -- say Patterson's gruff style hasn't gone over well with students and he's failed to pull the marchers together.

"He's a very difficult person to get along with. He came in saying he was going to unite the band, but that didn't happen," said Brian Phillips, 17, a field conductor from McCandless who will graduate in June. "He is not receptive to student input."

Patterson, a full-time secondary music teacher, was paid $5,400 last year to be the high school marching band director, district spokeswoman Joy Ed said. Because the post is a one-year appointment, applications for the job are accepted annually, she said.

Ed said she did not know when a school board decision on the post would be made.

Patterson did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Alex Sirney, a senior trumpet player from Franklin Park, said that while Patterson's taskmaster method might work elsewhere, it hasn't at North Allegheny. Patterson, Sirney said, never adequately challenged the band and picked weak musical selections.

"He's a nice man, and I gave him a chance," Sirney said. "I kept hoping things would get better, but they never did."

But Adam Kubala, a junior alto saxophone player from McCandless, hopes Patterson keeps his job. Many students, he said, are thriving under Patterson's leadership.

"He treats you like a young adult. He expects you to be responsible," Kubala said. "Some people, I guess, have a problem with that."

Regardless of what decision officials make, Kubala said, band members will move on.

"We disagree now, but once we're out on the field, we work for one common goal," he said.

Phillips agreed.

"We're divided over this one issue, but the unity of the band was never in doubt, and I don't think it will be," he said. "We all respect each other."

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