Paul Viemeister, band teacher at TDHS since 2004, has retired.
“I didn’t tell my students I was retiring; I didn’t want to say goodbye,” Viemeister said in a recent interview. But on Sunday, July 29, at 1 p.m., he will host a party at Sorosis Park to celebrate his retirement.
“They can say goodbye then. They’re great kids.”
Viemeister began his teaching career as a fifth-grade band director in Hartland, Wisconsin, and after a few years moved to a job in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, where he taught high school band.
He and his wife, Kathy Viemeister, had relatives in Las Vegas and Oregon, and started looking for an opportunity to move west, taking a job teaching music to 1,200 sixth graders at the Clark County school district in Las Vegas.
He moved farther west, taking work as an assistant administrator for Wishram High and Elementary School in Washington, overlooking the Columbia River east of The Dalles. While there, he taught music part time in addition to his administrative duties.
While at Wishram, Viemeister began working with The Dalles Theater Company. “We did five musicals,” he recalls. Most of the performances were at The Dalles High School, and Viemeister was intrigued. “I loved that old building,” he said of the first time he visited. He explored the band room, and loved the feel of it, the history of it, even the stale band-room smell of it. “I just loved that room,” he said.
He was still working at Wishram, serving now as principal, but decided he needed a change. “I wanted to go back to teaching full time, that was where my passion was,” he explained.
In 2003 a job opened in Arlington, also on the Columbia River, 50 miles east of The Dalles. He returned to teaching music to kids from kindergarten through high school. “That was a great year,” he said. “It was a very close-knit community, I enjoyed that.”
But he still wanted to shift to teaching just high school students. “I like kids, but I like working with high school kids. They are young adults. It was so fun to watch them ‘grow up’ from freshman to senior.”
At the end of the year, he learned that The Dalles High School needed a band director and Viemeister applied and then kept in touch.
“I hounded the principal. I really wanted to teach in that band room,” he said.
He got the call on his cell phone, on his way to Safeway. “That was one of the happier days of my life.”
The job met his high expectations. Over the years, in different states and schools, Viemeister said he found kids everywhere were pretty much the same, with the same mix of needs and desires, motivations and expectations.
The Dalles was no different, and he found himself working with a great bunch of students. “They were highly motivated band kids,” he said. They wanted to be challenged; they wanted to do difficult pieces. I said, ‘okay, I’ll push you.’”
That was especially true with the jazz band, he said. “I had a jazz band that was just tremendous.”
That showed two years ago when the group competed in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Band festival in Moscow, Idaho, and the jazz band came in second right behind a high-powered band out of Seattle. “That was really unexpected,” Viemeister said. They were hoping to return this year and take first, but were unable to because of the weather.
The jazz band participated in the annual Starlight Parade on Portland two years ago, which was quite an honor. The last time The Dalles band participated was 1966.
And the band also participated in Disneyland’s Magic Music Days music workshop which resulted in them recording a DVD to number of Disney videos.
“Quite the educational experience. Disney music clinician was impressed with how well the band responded to the music through their quality performance in their recording studio,” he said.
In addition to the band, Viemeister was also choir director for the past six years.
“This year my choir sounded really good; they really grew musically,” he said.
As a certified K-12 music teacher, he is qualified to teach both band and choir, he said. But the two disciplines are unique. “Band and choir, they are very different. There are different techniques for teaching choir. You don’t have an instrument; your voice is the instrument.”
Not the he isn’t familiar with vocal techniques or understand good vocal performances: He has three daughters, Sara, Anna and Jena, and two of them are professional opera singers. Anna sings opera in New York, and Jena sings in the Portland Opera Chorus, has a voice studio and teaches vocal classes at Mount Hood Community College. Sara is very musical on both keyboard and vocal; however, she decided to pursue a career with CGCC in financial aid.
“They are carrying on the family’s musical tradition,” he said.
It’s a long tradition in the Viemeister family. Growing up in northern Illinois, his father played jazz piano, music selections from the 1930s and 40s. His mother loved opera singing, and sang in the church choir. “It was just a way of life,” he said of the music.
Viemeister himself started singing in the church choir when he was just four years old. “My father loved family history, did a lot of research. He found musicians and artists in the family, on both sides, clear back to the 1600s,” he said.
Viemeister’s retirement plans still include projects involving music and kids. He will be substitute teaching and is working out a music project at Wahtonka Community School. “It will center on putting on a rock-type concert, which includes components of marketing, promoting and performing,” he said.
He will stay active musically. Since coming to The Dalles, he has worked with a number of bands including Swing Crew, his own band NightWind, Gorge Jazz Band, veteran band : Got Your Six, and the trio Bad Dogz.
Plus, in October he will take his seat as president of the Kiwanis Club. “I still see the need to work with children,” he explained, and the Kiwanis do that by raising funds for a variety of youth programs in the community.
He is also president of the Central Oregon Animal Friends out of Madras. That group is currently overseeing operations at Home At Last, where they are looking for ways to upgrade and modernize the facility.
His passion for animals is also reflected in his own home.
“I think my retirement will be busy,” he concluded. “Both my wife, Kathy, and I feel very blessed to have discovered The Dalles over 20 years ago. We loved raising our children here and love being involved with this community.”