LOHS teacher leaves legacy of strong band program

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego High School band director Dave Matthys said he loves teaching students to play together as a group.On the day of his retirement, a student says to the titular band teacher in the drama “Mr. Holland’s Opus”: “We are the notes and the melodies of your opus. We are the music of your life.”

Those words easily could apply to Lake Oswego High School teacher Dave Matthys, whose retirement is effective today.

“The best part of teaching is seeing the growth not only musically of my students but seeing them become young adults,” said Matthys, 56.

The Lake Oswego resident will remain on a temporary contract through the remainder of the school year, instructing his AP music theory students and directing the school’s concert, symphonic and jazz bands as well as the wind ensemble. He also conducts the marching and pep REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Dave Matthys has served as the Lake Oswego High School band director for 11 years and is retiring.

“He spends an incredible amount of time outside the classroom doing band activities,” said LOHS senior Jamie Zimmerman, the marching band drum major. “We have festivals, pep band performances, competitions and other band events.”

A teacher for 35 years, Matthys is in his 11th year at LOHS. In his first year there, the band qualified for state for the first time. In 2007, the Laker band snagged fourth place at state. He hadn’t even gotten started.

“He’s so good at what he does,” LOHS choir teacher Cole Blume REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - The LOHS marching band is an integral part of the annual homecoming parade.

Among its stacks of awards throughout the years, the LOHS band landed second place in the 6A division at the Oregon School Activities Association championship last year and in 2008. During the past 11 years, the marching band has nabbed the top spot, or the sweepstakes award, in its division nine times at the Starlight Parade during the Portland Rose Festival.

Yet, Blume said Matthys isn’t about awards: He’s about filling students with the joy of music. When Blume came to LOHS in 2007, Matthys — also instrumental in hiring him — acted as his mentor. The new choir director said, fresh out of college, he was “kind of determined to have my students be little professional musicians.” by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Dave Matthys said, 'Music was something I was always successful at, and I found that I could relate how to be successful in music to other people.'

The older teacher stepped up and helped Blume learn that students aren’t interested in just pushing perfectly rendered notes into the air.

“Dave’s someone who helped me remember and understand that (learning music) needs to be fun,” Blume said. “It needs to be positive. It needs to be demanding, but it can’t lack an element of surprise or of pleasure or enjoyment, so kids keep coming back to your classroom because they want to be there, because they enjoy being there. I think that’s probably one of the most important things I learned from Dave.”

Matthys said he also wants his students to learn to work together as a team.

“The other thing that I want them to get out of band is that they enjoy music for the rest of their life,” he said.

Matthys didn’t always plan to be a music teacher. He was studying music and engineering at Western Oregon University when he realized: “I was much better at music.” Teachers encouraged him to mentor other students because Matthys said they saw something in him. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music teaching at WOU and received a master’s in music education from Lewis & Clark College.

He said he became a teacher because “music was something I was always successful at, and I found that I could relate how to be successful in music to other people, to other students.”

As a band teacher, he has a way of seeing his group not just as a whole but also as individuals. Leading his band with a conductor’s stick in his right hand, he’ll call out to some students, offering personalized instructions.

Earlier this week, his wind ensemble wasn’t quite capturing the melancholy mood of “Variations on a Korean Folk Song,” a tune that grew from an old story about unrequited love. He asked one student to stand in front of the others while they played and told students to imagine him as their beloved whom they could not be with.

“I was trying to use a visual (using a student) to get the kids to play with a different sound,” Matthys said. “It worked.”

Zimmerman, also the first chair of the trumpet section, has known Matthys for more than four years, first meeting him as an eighth-grader at Lake Oswego Junior High. He also taught there for a time.

“Mr. Matthys is like a father figure to me. ... He’s been a huge part of my life,” she said.

Blume said Matthys is a family man, after all.

“I think he’s a very loving father, first and foremost,” Blume said.

Matthys is leaving LOHS to spend more time with his family, although he may also work part time at Portland State University, still making time for the classroom after his three and a half decades serving in public schools throughout the state.

That’s even longer than Mr. Holland served students. Holland famously said upon retiring that he hoped he had changed lives at his school: “You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference. You think it matters to people.”

That’s just what Matthys said he always has wanted to do: to change lives and imbue his school, his students with music.

He did. He has.

“He’s really fostered a love for the band program,” Zimmerman said.

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, .

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