I started taking private clarinet lessons with Anthony Desiderio in 1948. I was in 8th grade and he was teaching those lessons at Proctor High School. In 1949, when I went to high school (Utica Free Academy i.e., Utica High School) but continued taking private clarinet lessons at Proctor from Mr. D. Those lessons and my music degrees from the University of Michigan, via various unique circumstances, led me to hire Dr. Desiderio to be one of the clinicians at a Wind and Percussion Clinic at Sacramento City College in 1970. At the time, I was the director of bands at Sacramento City College and sponsor of that clinic.
On July 30, 2014, I just finished putting together a series of pictures of my early days as band director at Proctor High School, for my third daughter. Those photos included my participation in the University of Michigan Symphonic Band when they performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. As I began labeling some photographs of that event, it brought to mind my great debt to Dr. Desiderio and the major part he played in the life and the many students fortunate enough to have him for their clarinet teacher in Utica, NY. I also realized, in looking through some of the snapshots of the U. of M. Band at Carnegie Hall is that Tony had three former clarinet students from the Utica area in that history-making concert. It was myself, Russell Pizer, Rocco Polero and Sarah Manning.
After finishing my Bachelor of Music at the U. of M., I spent several years teaching in the very rooms that were once occupied by Mr. D. It was he who literally saved my life. I had been labeled as a “slow learner” in elementary school. Had it not been for Mr. D and my clarinet, I would probably have been relegated to delivering beer for Utica Club Brewing Co. Instead, I have a Bachelor and Master of Music Degree from the U. of M., 24 articles published and four books on teaching instrumental music. I was only accepted as a student at the U. of M. because Mr. D pulled some strings to get me into that institution. Further, one of my students from Proctor High School – what we could call, one Mr. D's “musical grandchild” has two degrees from the U. of M. also. Last I knew, that student – of a student – of Mr. D's completed a Doctor of Musical Arts in Saxophone at Washington University.
My thoughts of Mr. D and my years at Proctor caused me to do a Google search for this great teacher's of mine on July 30. The tears in my eyes as I write this are not for Mr. D but for myself for having experienced such a great loss.
Russell A. Pizer, Leisure World, Mesa, AZ