Dennis Aquilina, the group’s principal at Hart Middle School, retires on Friday, ending a 24-year career as a music teacher at Pleasanton Schools.
But the loss of Pleasanton is a win for San Francisco State University and St. Mary’s College, where he will expand his after-hours work to continue teaching and hopefully expand their music departments. In fact, he expects to see some of those he taught at Pleasanton again in one of the two college music programs.
Born in New York City, Aquilina moved to San Francisco in 1981 at the age of 25 to attend San Francisco State, where he graduated in trumpet five years later. After moving east and working for a time in Los Angeles, he chose teaching as a career and returned to the state of SF to earn an education degree and a teaching degree.
He began his career at a public school in Gilroy, then was hired by the Pleasanton School District in 1995 to succeed Rocco Russomano as Music Director of Amador Valley High School. Aquilina admits that after five years at Amador, working from early morning orchestra lessons to late night concerts and fanfare rehearsals, “I was beaten”.
He recalls: âAs we expanded the music programs with a growing marching band, separate marching band, percussion and two backing vocals, I found out that I was in charge of everything. We had just won our second state championship, our percussion ensemble had been chosen. second in the country and now I was also in charge of the jazz group which was growing in popularity.
âEverything was growing and I was on my own, working from group lessons very early in the morning to rehearsals and performances late at night, as well as many weekends. I had just adopted my second child and needed to move on. more time with them. “
When Hart Middle School opened in 2000, he applied for the new position of Music Director and was hired to fill it. The rest is history.
For the past 19 years at Hart, Aquilina has taught approximately 300 sixth, seventh and eighth grade music students per year. Equally important, he found that in college, where students must enroll to improve their musical skills, he has more attentive and interested young musicians and can work with them individually.
âMusic teachers have these students for three full years in a small classroom environment,â he said. âWe are very influential. We get to know them better than most teachers and are perhaps better able to support them as they transition from children in primary school to near-adults in secondary school.
And prepare them for their life to come, he did.
Kathleen Hinek, Farmers Insurance Agent in Pleasanton and daughter of the late Thomas S. Hart (whose name Hart Middle School was named), said Aquilina had just taken her current class to Ireland to honor her father being a “native son” there. The trip included 98 students and 30 parents. They performed at four locations during the seven-day trip, including historic theaters, festivals, and at the high school of one of Hinek’s parents.
âWhen they finished their performance with ‘Danny Boy’ the audience stood up to applaud,â Hinek said.
Ireland is just one of many trips Aquilina has organized as Hart’s Music Director. His classes have performed at Carnegie Hall, Disneyland, Pearl Harbor, Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals baseball games, military retirement residences, and three times in Washington, DC, including in front of the Lincoln Memorials and by Jefferson.
No replacement has yet been announced for the post of Music Director at Hart Middle School. But Aquilina’s shoes will be difficult to fill.