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Millikan Meant Music

By
Mary Jane (Braddock) Foster Class of 1959

When Millikan High opened in September 1956, most of us incoming sophomores already were old hands at launching local campuses. Three years earlier, I'd walked into the newly constructed Marshall Jr. High as a seventh grader, and many friends there had inaugurated Stanford Jr. High the following year.
By the time we met up again as 10th-graders at Millikan, we knew what to expect: Walking gingerly on new cement paths freshly laid around areas of dirt where lawns would be and trying to find rooms listed on class schedules on a campus where no one else knew, either. We all clutched a site map in one hand and looked confused - even the seniors and faculty. The first Aries shows roped-off areas with future lawns and some of the tiniest twigs of trees and shrubs. With all those students, it's surprising we didn't trample the plant life before it ever had a chance to grow.
Because the school district was racing to house new enrollment from our growing suburbs - and construction deadlines often aren't met - our Millikan campus opened that fall with some areas still unfinished. Most regular classrooms were complete, but the gym and locker rooms, auditorium and other "extras" were not, so girls' PE classes were held in the cafeteria (we snoozed through endless, boring health topics), while the band and orchestra found themselves rehearsing daily in the Home Economics department as our music room was being completed. It may have been a toss-up regarding who was more inconvenienced during this temporary arrangement - the budding musicians or the future home economists.
I was a violinist in the orchestra, conducted by Mr. Pappone. Michael Pappone (then Mr. Pappone, later Dr. Pappone) was Millikan's instrumental music teacher, and he was a dedicated instructor, intent on pulling together a top-notch program. Like any good conductor, he wasn't one to let the shortcomings of a cramped, inadequate rehearsal hall stand in the way of building an orchestra. We crowded into that classroom, tuned our instruments and got down to the business of making music - Mr. Pappone made sure of that.
As days went by, it became an odd duet as we unavoidably serenaded the Home Ec classes, and they in turn moved full-speed into their cooking curriculum. We filled the air with novice versions of Bach and Beethoven, while they retaliated with the aromas of freshly baked brownies and cakes. Every Millikan student probably looked forward to lunch time, but no one was more eager than the starving musicians who rehearsed every day while food cooked just down the hall - and completely out of reach.
Getting into the real music room that year was a real treat, and within a few months we had a real rehearsal hall, plus a great new auditorium for performances. No more crowding into classrooms better suited to Betty Crocker than to flutes and cellos.
To play in any musical ensemble conducted by Mr. Pappone meant one Cardinal Rule: Watch the conductor devotedly and follow his lead without fail. Period. No wandering attention, and no excuses accepted. We had some great musicians at Millikan, but hey, we were kids, and it wasn't that unusual to have someone stumble into what should have been a pause, or fail to stop a note precisely as he waved for a cut-off.
True to his passion about playing good music, Mr. Pappone's usual reaction (especially for those who just couldn't seem to keep an eye on the podium) was to throw his baton at the repeat offender(s) in frustration. Usually the metal rehearsal baton hit the metal music stand with a CLANG that startled everyone - although we knew he wasn't trying to hurt anyone - but you never knew when he would erupt when someone had ignored his tempo or bumbled into a measure of rest for the umpteenth time.


The combination of hard work and dedication paid off, and our Millikan Orchestra, even in its earliest years, gave some excellent concerts throughout the year - and picked up a few nice awards. When I graduated in 1959, the Aries noted that our orchestra was "heralded as the finest orchestra to appear in years by the Southern California Band and Orchestra Directors Association." With or without the medals, the music program at Millikan was excellent and contributed some of my best memories from that campus.
Fast-forward about 25 years: My older daughter was a violinist in the Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra, and Dr. Pappone was the guest conductor for one year (while the regular conductor was on sabbatical). Talk about a blast from the past! I was thrilled my daughter would have the opportunity to experience his expertise and dedication, but warned her about Dr. Pappone's pet peeve - musicians who didn't watch his lead - and cautioned her to keep an eye on the podium, even if she had to memorize the orchestral score. (Some things do stay with a person, which is what he'd intended all along.)
Either he'd mellowed over the years or the Orange County group was a top-notch orchestra, because I never got a report of Dr. Pappone flinging a baton that year. And I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him after the concert to catch up with him and say hello.
Although I never play these days, I still have the violin I used all though school, and in the instrument case I've kept the printed programs from several of our concerts (as well as Brigadoon, the musical put on at Millikan in my junior year). In June 1997, I was deeply saddened to add to that collection a newspaper obituary - Dr. Pappone had passed away at age 74. Although he had gone on to conduct the Long Beach City College Orchestra, he clearly also treasured the memories of his years at Millikan. Several local musicians, including one of his daughters, played for his funeral. However, the postlude was a recording of the Millikan High School Orchestra, conducted by Michael Pappone.
He was our very own Music Man.



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