The music plays on: In honor of late band director, AHS to debut commissioned music piece

Published 9:29 am Wednesday, March 6, 2019

David Kallman

For those who had Dave Kallman as a teacher, his memory will forever be kept alive through one special gift that’s debuting this spring.

After two years, a commissioned musical piece will be performed on May 16 during the Band Blast concert that was composed in memory of Kallman by Timothy Mahr, an internationally-recognized composer and conductor at St. Olaf College and a Northfield resident, said Christoph Dundas, director of bands at Austin High School.

Kallman was a longtime band director for Austin Public Schools and taught the beginning and middle school bands for 28 years before retiring in 1993. In 2016, Kallman passed away a couple months prior to Dundas starting his job at the high school.

Email newsletter signup

However, after having heard stories and testimonies about Kallman from former students, Dundas knew that Kallman had a special place in the community’s hearts and left a lasting impact on the people he taught and with whom he shared his passion for music.

“He really made a difference for those students,” he said. “I remember one story where a student was walking by and Dave had told him to try playing trombone and join the band. The student didn’t give much thought to it and gave it a try. It’s been 47 years and he’s still playing the trombone. It was a moment that stuck with him for the rest of his life.”

After Kallman’s funeral, the family donated the gifts they received to the district’s band program under the stipulation that the money be used to honor his memory in a lasting way. After conferring with other band directors who knew Kallman, Dundas decided that the best way to honor Kallman’s legacy and contributions to the district would be through what Kallman loved most—music.

This would mark the first time in 25 years that Austin High School would commission a new music piece, according to Dundas, and he anticipates receiving the physical copies of the piece sometime within the next week or two. The high school’s wind ensemble will be practicing the piece over the next few months until it’s performance ready.

“It’s really exciting to finally have this music which didn’t exist before, but one we’ll be performing in the next two months,” he said. “We don’t know anything about the piece, and we’re excited to see what’s unveiled in the coming weeks. That’s the fun and scary part. We don’t know the melody, tempo or anything like that. We’ll find out soon.”

‘It’s a great learning piece’

Getting to this point, Dundas reflected on the commissioning process that served as an educational experience for not just his students, but for himself.

“The first time, I worked more in a smaller, supportive role with 14 other districts to get a piece commissioned,” he said. “This is the first time that I took the lead of a commission. It was definitely a learning process on what it takes to get a piece of music commissioned, and it was something that took some time.”

Mahr was approached by Dundas to consider commissioning the special piece of music about two years ago. Having been a one-time student teacher at Austin High School with Conrad Muzik and Kallman in 1978, Mahr kept a close friendship with the Kallmans over the years and has a special tie with the community.

“Tim was an obvious choice at that point,” Dundas said. “He had connections to Austin. When I emailed him and floated him the idea about possibly doing a commission on this piece, he called me almost 15 minutes after I sent that message. He’s actually working for less on this piece than what he would normally do for a commission. It was so important to him to work on this music.”

Ironically enough, Mahr was Dundas’ conducting professor at St. Olaf’s more than a decade ago and taught future music teachers about the process of getting new music commissioned, including Dundas. Now, Mahr was the composer who created the piece in Kallman’s memory.

“It’s definitely coming full circle,” Dundas chuckled.

Christoph Dundas, Austin High School director of bands, conducts the symphonic band on Tuesday morning. Dundas had led the efforts of commissioning a new music piece in memory of Dave Kallman, a former band director for Austin Public Schools.

Since the Kallman’s gift covered about 60 percent of the cost to commission the piece, the band has been fundraising to meet their goal of covering $2,000. Dundas said that the the response from the community helped raise about half the needed amount as of Wednesday.

“It surprised me on how fast the community responded,” he said. “It’s really touching seeing the community’s support in wanting to be a part of this project, and even with $20, they’ll be a permanent part of this project and be involved in a list of friends and family who made this piece of music happen.”

As for preparing in advance for the Band Blast, Dundas shared that Mahr will be visiting students during class sometime this spring to help with technique as well as sharing his creative vision to how the piece would be played. Mahr also planned to attend the May concert.

“It’s a really neat educational component for students to meet the composer who wrote the music,” he said. “They’re getting to work with the composer and seeing the creative process to how he writes music.”

If Mahr decides to publish the music, then it’s possible that other school bands around the country could have access and perform the piece. They would then see that Austin High School commissioned the piece in Kallman’s memory, and keep his legacy alive.

“Just seeing something we imagined becoming a reality is amazing, and we’re excited to see what the reaction will be,” Dundas said. “Anytime someone pulls out music from the library, the hope is that future directors  or students will find out who Dave Kallman was, and find out about his legacy.”