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For John Douglas, Music Really Is His Life

A talent for teaching provides the opportunity to pursue his passion while guiding the next generation of local musicians.

Music teacher John Douglas uses Apple's GarageBand recording program to create demos and practice tracks for his legion of singers, choirs, music students and musicals. Among his works, Noozhawk has a particular fondness for
Music teacher John Douglas uses Apple’s GarageBand recording program to create demos and practice tracks for his legion of singers, choirs, music students and musicals. Among his works, Noozhawk has a particular fondness for “Harding Hawks,” the school anthem he wrote for Harding School. (Douglas family photo)

Between teaching jazz and piano at Westmont College, accompanying Clark Sayre’s musical theater classes at Dos Pueblos High, acting as assistant band director for the Goleta Valley Junior High jazz band, writing the music for Santa Barbara High’s musical A Village Fable, and accompanying Ike Jenkins’ jazz choir at SBCC, it’s a wonder that John Douglas even has a moment to spare.

“I’ve averaged working 18 hours a day for the last couple months,” Douglas said without a hint of the edginess that comes from months of lack of sleep. While many people might balk at the thought of pulling an all-nighter for the sake of work, Douglas has pulled several recently, to write the music for the SBHS play from scratch.

But, there’s a method to his madness.

“It’s fun, it’s challenging, and I get to spend time with my kids,” said the single-but-happily attached father of four.

Two of Douglas’ children are grown and the younger two attend Dos Pueblos. John-Paul, 16, plays trumpet in the various DP bands and Fernanda, 14, is a singer. With luck and good timing, Douglas will wind up in rehearsal with them, or better yet, on stage.

Being a musician isn’t easy; just ask anyone who makes a living from art. But for Douglas, it’s also a way to be part of the larger community. When he’s not teaching, he’s working with City at Peace, a nonprofit program that uses creativity to discuss the social issues of today’s youth. Or he’s heading up the music ministry at Second Baptist Church, 1032 E. Mason St. Or he’s accompanying the Inner Light Gospel Choir during rehearsals. Or he’s on staff at one of several local summer arts camps. Or he’s playing and singing at local retirement homes with his daughter.

And yet, he would not have thought his life would turn out to be this fun and challenging when he moved back to his hometown in 2002. At the time, he was a deputy public defender, a career he had taken on in Los Angeles almost 20 years ago.

John Douglas and his family after last summer's Stage Left performance of <i>The Wizard of Oz</i>: From left, daughter Nanda; her mom, Sandra Leppe; and son J-P, who joined his dad and played trumpet in the show’s orchestra.” width=“350” height=“280” /><div class=John Douglas and his family after last summer’s Stage Left performance of The Wizard of Oz: From left, daughter Nanda; her mom, Sandra Leppe; and son J-P, who joined his dad and played trumpet in the show’s orchestra. (Douglas family photo)

“It was the ‘80s and I wanted to make a difference,” he said. He specialized in public-interest cases.

But after six months of what he calls “the law stuff,” out here in paradise, he decided to go back to his musical roots. He quit the law career, but not the desire to make a difference.

“I thought, maybe I could be a substitute teacher,” he said. He tried, found out he was good at teaching, added music, and came up with a happy combination, one that allows him to pursue his interest while guiding the next generation of local musicians.

“I think (music education) engages a part of your creative and analytic process that enhances your ability to solve other kinds of problems and excel in other intellectual pursuits,” he said. Studies show that children who learn music develop talents and skills that can help them with other parts of their education, he said.

Besides which, for the high school students he teaches, it’s credited as community service if they step in to lend their musical talents to local high school plays and other school productions.

“The orchestras that I put together for almost all the shows I do are comprised of high school musicians,” he explained. “They’re playing the same music that the professionals do in New York or Los Angeles. It’s difficult music, but they’re able to to do it because they practice and because we have such good music education in town.”

Click here to hear a demo of one of the songs Douglas wrote for Santa Barbara High’s play, A Village Fable, which will be staged at 7 p.m. Saturday at the school, 700 E. Anapamu St. Vocals are by Nanda Douglas for a song to be sung by Eliana Mullins.

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