Remembering a teacher of note — Leonard Diggs

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 1/28/20

“A thing is not beautiful because it is permanent.” It is the nature of things that they are not permanent. Even the mountains crumble in time, the great trees fall, and time reclaims everything. …

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Remembering a teacher of note — Leonard Diggs

Posted

“A thing is not beautiful because it is permanent.”

It is the nature of things that they are not permanent. Even the mountains crumble in time, the great trees fall, and time reclaims everything. Heck, even the Patriots and Tom Brady eventually run out of “miracles.”

And so it is that even great people eventually are here no more. But the things they do in life echo in eternity.

When I was little, I went to concerts at O’Connell Junior High School in Lakewood that my brother played in. And they were spectacles — truly, community events. In fact, it was at a point, once upon a time, that the band and orchestra Christmas concert had to be performed on multiple nights, because the crowds were too big for one night. And, we’re not talking about one of the new school auditoriums that seat 350 people: these were in a gym, on very uncomfortable bleachers, that seated upwards of 600. In fact, it was one of the few concerts that my father would never miss, and that’s saying something, giving that taking the whole family to a junior high concert meant loading up eight people and herding them into the gym.

I knew I had to be a part of that.

Six years later, I was. For three years (junior high was 7-8-9 then), I was in at least one band class, usually two, and would drag myself (or, to be more accurate, talk my Dad into driving me) to school two hours before school started three days a week to be in extra performing groups. And then, on top of that, I joined the Golden Youth Symphony Orchestra, which rehearsed on Wednesday nights at the school, drawing players from students all over the county.

And all of that was because of one man — Leonard Diggs. Leonard would arrive at school by six every morning, and often not leave until after nine at night. He taught generations of students at O’Connell, frequently seeing two, three, or in the case of my family, six different siblings come through his doors. And every one of them knew two things: they were going to be expected to be adults, and they were going to be expected to make great music.

I had a chance to talk to Leonard a few years back about the some of the music we played, particularly in the Youth Orchestra. He said he didn’t believe in letting us do watered-down versions of the great music — if we were given the opportunity, he fully believed we would rise to the occasion and learn to do the great music. I remember well struggling to learn how to play mausic that was written for a different kind of trumpet than I owned, and changing the notes on the page in my head so that it would come out correctly. It was a skill I was never expected to do again until college. His love of the great music was a palpable fact of his classroom. Almost as obvious as his love of kids.

Later in life, when I became a teacher, I realized that I borrowed voluminously from those experiences. What he taught me, I used to teach others. I never mastered his gift of creating community, to my regret; but I never forgot to start with the love of music.

And I’m not alone. There are, literally, more than a dozen past students of his teaching music in the schools now (or retired from it). And from them, hundreds, perhaps thousands more still making music. 

Leonard died this past weekend, and the world is a little darker because of it. But what he did in life . . . it doesn’t so much “echo” in eternity, as resonate. It resonates every time one of the students whose life he influenced picks up their musical instrument and joins others to make beautiful music. Farewell, Maestro.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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