Celebration of Life Set for Dr. Gus Lease

Dr. Gus Lease, a beloved faculty member of San Jose State University who taught music for 66 years in the College of Humanities and Arts School of Music and Dance, passed away on Sept 4. He was 93.

A celebration of life for Dr. Gus Lease will be held Saturday, Oct. 1, at 1 p.m. in the Concert Hall (Music 176) at SJSU.

“Gus loved San Jose State University and his students, so much so that he simply didn’t want to leave or ever retire,” said Janet Averett, the associate director of Music and Dance at SJSU.

Even after his retirement and attainment of emeritus professor status, Lease continued to teach in the School of Music and Dance, as well as the history department.

Averett first met Lease in 1986, when he was chair of the music department. Lease had hired her straight out of graduate school from the University of Michigan. Averett said that she was young and felt alone after her cross-country move.

“I was very appreciative of the hospitality that he and his wife Lois displayed in having me over for dinner at their lovely home in the east San Jose foothills,” she said. “He was always very supportive of me.”

Before coming to SJSU in 1950, Lease taught vocal music at the University of Colorado and the University of Oklahoma. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music from Morningside College, a master’s in music from the University of Colorado, and his Ed.D. from the University of South Dakota.

Throughout his years at SJSU, Lease was dedicated to expanding musical opportunities on campus. He organized and directed a 350-voice chorale ensemble in 1950, which performed many oratorios and cantatas. In 1955, he founded the first Men’s Glee Club at the university. Lease served as chair of the Department of Music from 1982-1989.

Lease raised many Spartan spirits with his rendition of the alma mater “Hail, Spartans Hail,” along with the national anthem, through the years. He performed as vocal soloist at more than 63 homecoming football games and 65 commencement ceremonies.

“Gus was a loyal Spartan who was dedicated to enhancing SJSU through music,” said Provost Andy Feinstein. “He always brought a smile to my face when I saw him because of his enthusiasm and his good-natured sense of humor.”

The Director of the School of Music and Dance, Fred Cohen, added, “Gus was a direct link to the storied and proud past of the Department of Music at SJSU. He often shared memorabilia from his days as professor and chair, from newspaper articles about the new music building in the 1950s to his personal minutes from faculty meetings in the 1960s-70s. Gus always had a story to tell, and I inevitably walked away from a conversation with a greater sense of the wonderful and life-changing accomplishments achieved during the long history of music at SJSU.”

Averett said, “I especially admired the fact that nothing ever seemed to get him down,” noting that he bounced back after a serious car accident left him with hip injuries that affected him for the rest of this life. “He proudly walked to his office and classroom every day he was on campus, even with the aid of a walker, always with a smile.”

Beyond campus, Lease remained active in his craft. He was a member of the San Francisco Opera Company, and for 17 years he produced “The Gus Lease Show,” which performed on military bases throughout the world. He was the music director of the San Jose downtown Kiwanis Club for more than 50 years, and served as music director at many churches.

Lease’s community service extended beyond music. He was past president of the Tennessee Ernie Ford Chapter of the Air Force Association and past vice president of the Santa Clara County Navy League. His awards include “National Outstanding Professor” from Vector Marketing, as well as awards from the Department of the Army. He was active in the California Faculty Association, California State Employees Association, California Teachers Association, California State Retirees, and the National Education Association.

For more information about the celebration of life scheduled for October 1, please call the School of Music and Dance Office at 408-924-4673.

 

Community Music Institute Receives $10,000 from 50 Fund

Photo: Mathew Imaging

Gustavo Dudamel, who will perform at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, has been a key figure in the launch of YOLA, a youth orchestra in Los Angeles, California. SJSU is developing a similar initiative. (Photo: Craig T. Mathew/ Mathew Imaging for LA Phil).

An SJSU initiative inspired by the success of Super Bowl 50 halftime performer Gustavo Dudamel has received a $10,000 gift from a game-related charity and could receive $10,000 more with your help.

All you need to do is go to the StubHub Fan Fair website, scroll down to “StubHub Gives Back to the Bay Area,” and vote for the SJSU Community Music Institute before Feb. 5. The five organizations that receive the most votes will get an extra $10,000.

The winners will be announced Super Bowl Sunday.


Inspiration

Coordinator of Music Education Diana Hollinger founded the Community Music Institute in 2006. A branch of the SJSU School of Music and Dance, the program provides musical instruments and lessons to children.

Hollinger’s inspiration, and the subject of her dissertation, is Venezuela’s El Sistema music education program, which offers a classical music education to disadvantaged youth. Dudamel, the exuberant musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is among its best-known alumni. He will perform at this year’s halftime show.

“SJSU resides in a diverse, creative, and vibrant local cultural life, yet many of our resident urban schools have high levels of student poverty and little or no music education. We hold that every child deserves a complete and quality music education, and that this improves the lives of children and their communities,” Hollinger said.

Projects

The Young Musicians’ Project is one of CMI’s initiatives. It pairs music majors with local elementary, middle, and high school musicians for one-on-one lessons. Now, Hollinger would like to start a String Project, focusing specifically on string instruments.

SJSU student gives a one-on-one violin lesson to a boy.

Photo: Brian Stanley, ’16 Journalism

“The first $10,000 finances the instruments. The extra $10,000 would allow us to provide stipends to the SJSU music students who will teach on these instruments. This is an important piece, as so many of our own students struggle to pay tuition and living expenses,” Hollinger said.

These projects provide the SJSU music majors with hands-on teaching experience, while offering private lessons to young people who would otherwise lack access to such opportunities.

Approximately 15 SJSU students worked with 30 children on the Young Musicians’ Project last semester. There’s room for growth. With more than 100 music education majors, SJSU is one a top provider of music teachers and band directors to Bay Area schools.

Changing lives

Hugo Garcia, ’17 MA Music Education, is the program director for the Young Musicians’ Project. He’s motivated by personal experience.

I come from a low socioeconomic background, and I didn’t have much of a music education because the majority of opportunities to get a good quality music education were and still are very expensive. However, I loved music, and I found that it helped me learn and it helped me find my focus,” he said.

“I think that if I had more of an opportunity to study music, my schooling would not have been as difficult as it became. I had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get the music education that I now believe should be free.”

SJSU connected with StubHub through the 50 Fund, which provided SJSU the initial $10,000 gift. The 50 Fund is the signature philanthropic initiative of Super Bowl 50. Its goal is to help close the opportunity gap that exists for Bay Area children, youth, and young adults living in low-income communities.