End of a musical era at M-A with Kent Kurrus’ retirement
The inimitable Kent Kurrus — or “K-squared,” as some students refer to him — retired at the end of the school year. Over the past 13 years, his impressive rule over the music room has molded rowdy high schoolers into virtuosos. He is a stalwart, fearless leader. Jazz, concert band, orchestra—Kurrus does it all. For many of the 120 students that take part in M-A’s musical program, Kurrus is an integral part of their four years.
Senior Josh Calonje, a drummer in Jazz III, has been with Kurrus all four years. He said, “The music program really changed my life. It really shaped what I wanted to do later in life. I had no direction and having a supportive teacher like Kurrus really changed that.” Calonje dabbles in creating his own music.
Kurrus primarily plays the French horn. He even went to the University of Puget Sound on a horn scholarship before switching to conducting for his Master’s degree. Senior and fellow French horn player Paul Yoon has especially bonded with Kurrus over their shared love of the instrument. Yoon said, “When I came to the school from the hell of Palo Alto High School’s band program, Kurrus welcomed me with open arms. That’s the first place I felt included at the school. He’s a really great horn player and a really great dude.”
Senior Datis Hoghooghi, who plays trumpet in Jazz III, said, “Kurrus really revitalized my interest in music. Without him, I wouldn’t even be considering pursuing music.”
M-A alum Ryan Saadat wrote, “I will never forget how he took so many students under his wing. He did so much more for his students than any teacher ever does, and his stoic empathy, sense of humor, and charisma are something that will have shaped M-A and its music program for decades to come.”
Faculty will also remember Kurrus fondly. English teacher Lisa Otsuka said, “I used to go out to the football games and he would let me conduct with his baton. He taught me how to do it. He’s definitely someone I consider to be a friend.”
Math teacher Ronald Weiss said, “Students like him and respect him and they really want to perform to their maximum capacity. As a teacher, that’s what you want. You want them to exceed and overachieve, and he’s been able to do that.”
For many, Kurrus will be remembered for his sense of humor. Hoghooghi said, “He has a water gun named Magnus that he’ll sometimes take out as a tool.” At football games, Kurrus has been known to shoot unruly students who creep into the pep band’s section. He calls it “behavior management.” Once, Hoghooghi said, “he hurled a pair of sunglasses at a Buca Di Beppo.” The sunglasses broke a light and Kurrus then had to pay for the replacement.
A weathered Kurrus-emoji on a student’s case. Photo courtesy of Walden Hoddie.
Kurrus is also undeniably meme-able. In past years, seniors presented him with a sticker sheet of “Kurrus-emojis” which Kurrus proudly doles out when especially pleased (or maddened) by a student’s playing.
Kurrus’ scowls and occasional shrieks at out-of-tune notes tend to intimidate the underclassmen. Concertmaster and senior Mia Garcia said, “He scared the shit out of me as a freshman.” But now, Garcia spends at least two periods a day in the music room. Garcia explained, “I like how Kurrus keeps it real with me—Kurrus is so down-to-earth. He cares about each one of his students and he truly cares about music.”
Flautist and senior Myla Butzlaff had a similar experience. “When I first auditioned for band, I broke down in tears in front of him because I thought I was so bad. He scared me so much, and then I got to know him. He’s just a sweetheart. He just wants to make your day and make some music.”
Also undeniable is Kurrus’ musical prowess. He founded the M-A orchestra 11 years ago and has since brought them national accolades at prestigious, invite-only Festivals of Gold. Under his tutelage, Jazz III has traveled internationally and won several first-place and gold awards. Otsuka explained, “He’s amazing. He’s transformed the program. He has such a thorough knowledge of the jazz side and the orchestra. It’s really rare, they’re very different. No one can replace him—no one.”
At the final concert of the year and Kurrus’ final time conducting at M-A, a student from each musical group honored Kurrus with a speech. Seniors Jorge Mendoza, Jayna Chua, Jackson Bryman, and freshman Kealy Bryman brought the crowd to standing ovations with their heartfelt words. Afterward, at the reception, an online message board for Kurrus was flooded with thank you’s, funny memories, and pictures from M-A alumni, parents, and current students.
Senior Evan Wong wrote, “I know everyone will miss your grumpy charm!”
Parent Rebecca Goldsmith wrote, “I wish you many peaceful hours with your grandkids, cooking up a storm, enjoying the quiet and the trees, and making beautiful jewelry.”
The Age of Kurrus has been quite a blessing. For Kurrus, his 13 years at M-A — a very lucky number — round off 38 years of educating snot-nosed students. Through it all, he has pushed each musical group to great heights. For his students, he has alternated between teacher, conductor, icon, and friend.
Next year, William Flaherty from El Segundo High School will be teaching M-A’s music classes.
As for Kurrus, he has big plans. When asked, he said, “Eat. Drink. Travel. Camp. Fish. Repeat.”
Author Isabel Norman graduated from M-A this June; article appeared in M-A Chronicle — used with permission