DAVIS' BELOVED MUSIC MAN
DIES AT 75

From The Davis Enteprise
May 6, 20090

   

brunelle1W.jpg (33586 bytes)Richard Brunelle, fondly known as the Music Man of Davis and called Uncle Dickie by his students and later co-clients at the Yolo Adult Day Health Center, died Sunday evening after a long illness. He was 75.

A music teacher at Davis High School and choir director at Davis Community Church, he was able to capture the love and admiration of most people he touched through music.

David Murphy, who served as principal at Davis High in the 1980s, recalled Brunelle as 'a musical genus, a gift given to our students and our community. He was talented in each musical dimension and created the foundation for our incredible music program at Davis High School.

'He was also a very humble man, whom our students greatly admired. That admiration and personal connection with their teacher motivated students to do more than they would think they could.'

Brunelle began his Davis music career in 1966 teaching four choirs and an orchestra at Emerson Junior High and Davis High schools. A short time later, he became a full-time teacher at the high school, where, over the years, he added the Madrigal Choir, Jazz Choir and Jazz Band, as well as an Advanced Placement course in music history and theory to the already demanding assignment of full orchestra, chamber orchestra, marching band and pep band.


Brunelle took a leave of absence in 1970-71 to complete his master's degree at San Francisco State University. In 1973, as the high school's enrollment grew, the band programs were reassigned to other teachers.

Besides the duties at school and church, he directed musicals and operettas, acted in lead roles in community productions and was an agile dancer.

His musical groups maintained an active competition and touring schedule, reliably bringing home the highest ratings and rave reviews. Among the highlights were the participation in the International Youth and Music Festival in Vienna, where his unauditioned high school chamber orchestra outplayed college groups from Oxford, England, and Freiburg, Germany, to be featured in the final concert; the first place win of the Jazz Choir at the New Orleans River Music Festival; a standing ovation for the Madrigal Choir by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Madrigal Choir invitations to sing at the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree (which in 1986 came from California) in Washington, D.C., and to the Harrogate International Music Festival, which allowed Davis students to hear themselves in the grand spaces of English cathedrals.

The term 'award-winning' became standard in newspaper reviews for all the DHS music groups.

The rainbow of art forms and Brunelle's boundless energy became perhaps most evident in the annual spring pops concerts, which featured all his groups and culminated in a rousing finale. The concerts typically lasted three hours and were performed twice, back-to-back, to sold out houses.

Val Dolcini, who sang in the Madrigals during the 1980s, was one of several former students of Brunelle's who contacted The Enterprise as news of his death spread through the community Monday.

'It is an enormous loss for our town,' Dolcini said.

Karen Gardias, who became the teacher and director of the Madrigals after Brunelle retired in 1993, said, 'Dick created a culture and tradition for a group that exemplifies the talent and drive of youth in Davis. I am blessed to have inherited his program.

'We have many extremely talented musicians and educators in Davis, but what set him apart was his gentle and gracious nature. It was an honor to follow in his footsteps and a personal challenge to continue his legacy. He was so welcoming and kind. Davis has lost a great man who touched the hearts and minds of not only so many students, but also audiences throughout the world.'

Superintendent James Hammond, who came to the Davis school district around the same time the performing arts complex at Davis High School was named in Brunelle's honor in 2007, said, 'Brunelle's legacy will stand for many generations. ... Davis is very pleased to have had such an educator touch the lives of students through the gift of music.'

Born Sept. 25, 1933, Brunelle was raised in the then-rural town of Temecula, which during his youth counted about 450 residents. As early as age 5, he distinguished himself with an innate musical talent. Soon he played the organ or the piano at church services, dances, school events and family gatherings, and continued to do so throughout his life.

After receiving his bachelor's degree in piano performance at San Diego State University, he served in the U.S. Army as a chaplain's assistant, organist and director of music at Fort Ord. He interrupted his work toward his master's degree in music by accepting a position as choral director with the U.S. Armed Forces in Frankfurt-Main, Germany, where he stayed for four years.

There he also taught piano privately and coached vocal students at the Frankfurt Conservatory of Music, where he met his future wife, Edelgard Schulte-Vieting, whom he married in 1964. The family moved to California in 1966, after the birth of their first son, Stephan. His sons Paul and Martin were born in 1967 and 1970.

After retiring in 1993 from his long career in the Davis schools, Brunelle took great pride in providing the accompaniment for 13 vocal concerts benefiting Citizens Who Care, singing with seniors two Saturdays per month with the Citizens for Care Respite Program, and playing the piano for Soup and Song at the Davis Community Church.

He cherished the personal recognitions and awards he received, like the Brinley Award in 1980, the Outstanding California Music Educator of the Year in 1990, and the California Teacher of the Year in 1992. But most of all he appreciated the love the Davis community showed him, such as the 'Mad (Mad About Dick) Day' party in Central Park to celebrate his 10th anniversary in Davis, where the town roasted and 'choral-ed' him.

More recently, highlights included his lavish retirement party, the 40th anniversary Madrigal Reunion Concert at the Mondavi Center given in his honor in 2007, and the naming of the Richard Brunelle Performance Hall at Davis High School.

Brunelle loved to tell stories, which his students referred to as Uncle Dickie's Story Time. While his protracted illness sadly robbed him of this verbal ability, he kept his piano-playing skill and his knack to charm people almost to his last day.

During his final years, he was described as the sweetest, compliant and most patient patient imaginable.

He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Edelgard; three sons, Stephan, Paul and Martin; Stephan's wife Crystal and their children Joshua and Elizabeth; his brother, Alan Brunelle and his wife Kathie; his sisters, Paula Burton and Judy Jones and her husband J.D.; cousins, nieces, nephews and many family-like friends. They all loved Brunelle for his gentle, yet vivacious personality and his gift of music.

A celebration of Brunelle's life will begin at 4 p.m. Monday, May 18, at Davis Community Church, 412 C St., followed by a public reception at the church Fellowship Hall, 421 D St.

Memorial gifts will be gladly accepted to the Richard Brunelle Scholarship Fund for high school students, or the Richard Brunelle Choral Fund for middle and elementary school students. Contributions should be sent c/o Ann Costello, 215 Inca Place, Davis, CA 95616.

 

--------------------------  For Bob Dunning's tribute see http://funnytheworld.com/Dunning.htm --------------------------