David Fodor, retiring ETHS Director of Bands.

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Director of Bands Dave Fodor is halfway through his 22nd year working with Evanston Township High School’s concert band, marching band, wind ensemble and chamber and jazz groups. He will retire at the end of this academic year, and Matthew Bufis, currently co-director of bands, will take up the reins.

One thing is certain: Dr. Fodor will be leaving an enormous legacy of support and mentorship for the music department.

Students, colleagues, and parents speak of him with respect, warmth and, many, with gratitude.

When Dr. Fodor first came to ETHS in 1990 – though he says the music program has a “long and rich tradition behind it,” and he is “still running into alums from back as far as the ‘40s,” – marching band was required and only one jazz band existed. Now, with more than 400 students in music at ETHS, Dr. Fodor works with 200 himself.

Marching band is now voluntary; he says he felt that “if we ma[de] it fun and good, [students] would want to come.” And they have. “In the last four years, we’ve started competing,” Dr. Fodor says. “They meet 140 hours plus – more than other music classes.”

The jazz program was tiny. He says the sole band asked to have a blues band, and it has developed into three jazz bands and nine combos, all of which meet outside of class. The annual ETHS jazz festival is Dr. Fodor’s baby: The 2006 festival at which celebrated trumpet player Maynard Ferguson performed with his band and with ETHS groups, made a profit, and the program can now “run comfortably,” says Dr. Fodor.

The festival is big and successful, and is a real contribution to the nurturing of young Midwest jazz musicians. A guest is paid to come, but there is also a “great parent committee, with two directors, a 20-parent steering committee” and they use “100 parents and 20 student volunteers” in the committee that “meets monthly [from] September to the festival,” which this year was held Feb. 11.

Past Fest guests have included Phil Woods, Joe Lovano, Peter Erskine, Joey DeFrancesco and Murizio Rolli with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Last year Chicago Jazz Philharmonic founder, conductor and artistic director Orbert Davis and saxophone/clarinet player Victor Goines played the evening concert together; percussionist Paul Wertico performed at noon.

Dr. Fodor says strong support for the event comes from outside Evanston as well: Students come from Chicago, Indiana, New York, Canada – from as far away as Manitoba – to participate in the non-competitive festival. He adds, “We’ll try to keep making it the Evanston Jazz Festival. We want it to be something the community owns, too.“

Like his colleagues, Director of Choral Music Mary Theresa Reed and Director of Orchestral Music Charles Abplanalp, Dr. Fodor is a practicing musician. He regularly plays in Ron Surace’s “In Full Swing” big band. Band member trombonist Thomas W. Greene IV says, “I know Doc Fodor as an incredibly gifted musician … As an educator, Doc Fodor brings top professional musicians to workshops with high school students. This is an amazing opportunity for student musicians.”

Dr. Fodor comes originally from Peotone, Ill., near Kankakee. His dad, Mike, was chief x-ray technician at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet for more than 30 years;
it was Dr. Fodor’s mother, Jean, who was the musician, he says.

The New Lennox school system that he attended after the family moved to a house closer to his dad’s work provided a “fantastic experience” in music, says Dr. Fodor, adding “It’s why I ended up here.” Particular individuals inspired him with their enjoyment of playing and teaching music, among them his fifth grade band teacher Tom Goodwin, a percussionist.

Dr. Fodor took private lessons with him in percussion, too. “He seemed to have such a great time playing and teaching, it seemed like something I could do,” he says. Randy Kummer, the director of music at Lincolnway High, “loved what he was doing. He was very energetic, and really seemed to care about us musically and otherwise.”

Dr. Fodor says his brother’s earlier negative school music experience stayed with him. Mike had wanted to play drums in school, but when the time came to select an instrument, the band director insisted he play piccolo. Mike said no, and only returned to music when Dr. Fodor persuaded him to play cymbals in a community band. Dr. Fodor says this experience made him sensitive to the interests that students bring with them.

When his parents saw how focused he was on music, Dr. Fodor says, they tried to offer him other opportunities, but finally they recognized his determination. “My dad finally said, ‘I hope you’re prepared to be poor.’ But he also expressed it was important to follow your passion,” he says.

While he majored in music education at University of Illinois, Urbana, he says he spent most of his time with the jazz students. He enjoyed “the playing scene” and recognized the strength of the U of I’s  jazz program, despite its informal existence.

His senior year in college, some of Dr. Fodor’s classmates “had the idea to move to Chicago and ‘go pro,’” he says. It sounded like fun to him, but a job teaching in the Herscher schools near Kankakee, opened up and, he says, “It sounded like it fit me really well.” He says he never “viewed the performance degree as useful,” however, “because you’d still always have to audition [i.e., one’s credentials do not get one far enough.] For me, the Mus. Ed. was a career path that seemed like the right choice.”

He met his wife-to-be, Sarah, who had grown up in Northbrook, at a hockey pep band practice. She was a double major in French and English who played clarinet.  Their sons, Mark and Tim, were born there.

Both were on tenure track at their respective institutions, which required them to pursue Ph.D.s. Both were granted leaves of absence to do so. Ms. Fodor went to the University of Chicago, while Dr. Fodor went to Northwestern. He says this was when he and his wife “fell in love with Evanston.”

They ended up staying here.

Don Owens, now emeritus at Northwestern, who had been a director at ETHS himself, helped and inspired Dr. Fodor during this time. Dr. Fodor says, “I knew about ETHS through him. He had huge influence on jazz and non-performance high-school-level courses.”

A couple of weeks before Dr. Fodor finished his Ph.D. coursework, he says, he got a call from District 65. The District was looking for a band director to finish out the year. He says he thought, “I’m free; we need the money.” He taught 1989-90 at Nichols Middle School for six weeks. Then he got a call from the ETHS director asking him to come look at the ETHS job. 

The extraordinarily positive results for ETHS are known well to all Dr. Fodor’s students, past and present. In an earlier interview with ETHS/Fodor alum and rising jazz star Chris Green, the saxophonist said, “When I started getting really, really serious, my senior year in high school was [Dr. Fodor’s] first year at ETHS. He was finding his way to rebuilding the band program. I really wanted to play, and he saw that and threw every possible opportunity my way. (See July 18, 2012 RoundTable)

While Dr. Fodor was reorganizing and reconstructing the band and jazz programs at ETHS, he says he remembered he had a Ph.D. to finish. At the time, he put the degree aside for the job, wondering if he would end up an “ABD” (“all but dissertation”).

“What jumpstarted me,” he says, is that a Music Ed teacher saw his Ph.D. floppy disk and asked him questions. “He had an encouraging interest. … After seven years at Evanston schools, I took a year sabbatical at half salary.”  He finished his dissertation on the subject of how learning takes place in jazz combos – Dr. Fodor says turning this into a book will be one of his projects after he retires.

“There’s nothing in the music education market on the subject,” he says. He has other ideas as well: “I’d like to write music again.” He would like to play more, too. “I’ve had to say ‘no’ so many times.”

And, Dr. Fodor says, he would like to start a teaching studio – after a while.

In the meantime, Dave Fodor has had such an effect on so many here in Evanston that a number of his students’ families raised funds to set up the “David B. Fodor Musical Residency Program at ETHS.” (See sidebar.) It is clear that many, many students, former and present, and their parents, while sorry to see Dr. David Fodor leave ETHS, where he has been a solid, energizing and even nurturing presence for so many years, are determined to make sure he is not forgotten.

Fodor alums are also planning a tribute, as are colleagues all over the world,
Ms. Emily Nidenberg says, who are excited by the prospect of being able to honor
in public the man who did so much for them. An announcement will be made at
the Dec. 16 Holiday Concert.

The David B. Fodor Musical Residency

The project began with a casual conversation at an ETHS concert between Emily Nidenberg, who has kept track of fundraising monies for the music department for more than 10 years while her children have been students, and Ray and Maryjo Boyer, a past PTSA president. The idea grew into reality from there.

They consulted with Dr. Fodor right from the beginning. Ms. Nidenberg says it is characteristic of the band and jazz program director that he wanted the product of the effort to benefit the entirety of ETHS music and all the music students. She says, when they brought the idea to Dr. Fodor, “He said, ‘One prime criterion. It’s really important to me that it benefit the music wing It’s not about the department and it’s not about me. It’s about the music wing.’” Dr. Fodor suggested an artist-in-residence program that would benefit every student involved with music at ETHS. The program will bring a professional, to be decided upon by the music faculty, to ETHS every year.  Ms. Nidenberg says, “Dr. Fodor said, ‘I can’t change what they’ve done before coming here, or what they do after, but I can affect what happens when they are here.”

Dr. Fodor and his fellow music directors at ETHS have all expressed their belief that exposure to professionals in the field is important for all music students, regardless of whether they will go on to become professional musicians themselves or will have just had the opportunity for the experience during high school.

The David B. Fodor Musical Residency will make such experience a certainty, a fitting legacy for a teacher whose “work has been marked by personal dedication, an unwavering commitment to excellence, and the highest professional standards–hallmarks of a truly great teacher,” as stated by the Fodor Fund steering committee on its statement sheet.

The Fodor Fund steering committee has calculated that the Fund’s goal of $100,000, if invested carefully, will afford the $5,000 needed for a yearly one-week residency. The Fodor Fund’s Facebook page has more information, and the fund’s own website will soon be up and running at http://fodorfund.org. Donations to the David Fodor Musical Residency can be made online through the ETHS District 202 Foundation website (www.eths.k12.il.us/foundation), with gifts noted Fodor Fund. Checks marked Fodor Fund can be sent to the ETHS District 202 Educational Foundation, 1600 Dodge Avenue, Evanston, IL  60202.

The fund’s Crowdrise website at http://www.crowdrise.com/fodorfund is also up.