Brunelle's Grieving Pupils Sing his Praises

Bob Dunning

The Davis Enteprise
May 6, 20090


Few of us have the opportunity to influence as many lives as Dick Brunelle did, but then maybe Dick just made the most of his opportunities.

Dick Brunelle, Davis' very own Music Man, died in our town Sunday night at the age of 75.

He taught and coached and inspired hundreds of students in all things musical during a 28-year career at Davis High School that ended with his retirement in 1993. He could have taught anywhere. He chose Davis.

At the high school, he founded the Madrigals, the Jazz Band and the Jazz Choir, taught Advanced Placement music theory, conducted the Davis High School Symphony Orchestra and was involved in seemingly a million ways with the school's music programs.

My high school career ended several years before Dick Brunelle landed on the Davis High campus, so I didn't become fully exposed to his genius - there is no other word to describe it - until I became a Jazz Choir parent through my daughter Erin in 1993.

There had always been a friendly rivalry between the Madrigals - everyone called them the 'Mads' - and the Jazz Choir, but Dick solved that problem by throwing his complete energy and undivided attention into - well - both.

So I write this as a Jazz Choir parent, though I'm sure a 'Mad' mom or dad and many others whose kids performed for Dick would have similar tales to tell of this man who had a tremendous sense of fun, yet was a perfectionist driven to bring out the very best his students had to offer.

When I called Erin to tell her that her favorite teacher had died, the word went out very quickly to her fellow Jazz Choir members from 16 years ago. Within half an hour I was overwhelmed with a stack of heartfelt testimonials about this man they all so dearly loved.

Adam Flowers, now a professional opera singer, took time off from his preparations for 'La Boheme' to write, 'A world without Richard Brunelle is a world that sounds slightly out of tune, looks slightly less brilliant and feels slightly off the beat.' Indeed.

'During the Jazz Choir Cabaret fund-raiser dinners, Mr. Brunelle always did a parlor trick where he would take someone's phone number, assign a note to each number and then compose a song on the spot,' Adam adds.

'Each was a different musical style, and Mr. Brunelle would play it for the astonished listeners on the piano. In 1992 he took a woman's phone number and played the notes that the woman's number made, one by one, before fashioning his song. What poured out of that piano, I will never forget. Melancholy, aching, yet triumphant, it was a thing of beauty.

'That night, I realized that Richard Brunelle had the talent to pretty much do what he wished. And yet, he had chosen us. I cannot tell you how honored and humbled that made me feel.'

Another of my daughter's choirmates, Mike Monagle, writes, 'I graduated in 1993 and there has not been a year since that I have not thought of Mr. Brunelle, laughed about our many memories, our trips and what he stood for and how he believed in us. He helped us grow up into ourselves, and taught us dignity, self-respect, confidence and class. Few are lucky enough to have met such an influential person. How fortunate for me that I not only met him, I knew him, respected him and loved him.'

Patrick Phelan notes that 'Performing, being on stage, and being part of a tight-knit group turned me into a much more confident and happy person. The experiences I had with music far overshadow the rest of my DHS memories. Mr. Brunelle did so much and gave so much to the community. He was one of a kind.'

My daughter, Erin, says she 'loved the nutty professor in him,' something she had noticed growing up and watching in awe as Dick Brunelle and his musical groups became an unavoidable attraction.

'He radiated warmth and sincere interest in anything musical. He wanted to listen and he wanted to inspire. I had seen him growing up, directing the Jazz Choir and the Mads, and knew I always wanted to be a part of that magic.'

Magic. That's the word for this remarkable man. And he imparted that magic to his students. There is nothing more we can ask of a teacher.

There have been many people over the years who have helped to make Davis special. Dick Brunelle is at the very top of that list.

We are blessed to have had him with us for so many long and wonderful years.