In Memory of Mr. Dilks

Tonight I received sad news of the passing of my high school band director and music teacher, David Dilks. He will be sorely missed. In his memory, I want to share this essay I wrote for his retirement 10 years ago.

Celebrating the Career of Mr. Dilks

When I moved to Pennsville in the summer before 9th grade, one of the first people I met was Mr. Dilks. My father brought me into the school to meet him–he had been a favorite teacher of his growing up, and would soon become a favorite of mine as well. To say Mr. Dilks was the best band director and most talented music teacher I ever had is an understatement. He clearly could have been a professional musician if he had wanted to be, but instead chose to teach and inspire generations of students, which I think says a lot about him as a person.

What I remember most about him from my marching band days were his intensity and perfectionism–and I mean that in a good way. I never felt intimidated by him, but I also knew that he was not going to tolerate you giving any less than your best effort. I remember once he was so fed up with the way the band was practicing that he declared practice over and stormed off the field. None of us left the field. Everybody stood there and waited until he eventually returned. That’s how much respect everybody had for him.

What also struck me from the marching/concert band days was his incredible ear. He could pinpoint a sour note out of a 500-piece orchestra from ten miles away. A few of us liked to mess around sometimes during practice and start playing other people’s parts–you might have been able to get away with that with other directors, but not with Mr. Dilks. I think we tried it once and never again.

On a lighter note, I remember my parents telling Mr. Dilks that my sister’s childhood nickname was Nib. Sure enough, and much to her chagrin, that was the name he would call her from that point on, as in: “Nib, move to the left!”

My favorite memories by far with Mr. Dilks were playing with him for four years in the student/faculty jazz band. Not only was it great to be able to let loose and play quality music with talented musicians, but it was an absolute treat every day just to hear him play the trumpet. When I say he could have been a professional, I am not exaggerating. Nevertheless, as extremely talented as he was, he was always a teacher first. He encouraged us to push ourselves to the limit and beyond, and trusted us enough to give us ad-lib solos–nothing felt better during a performance than hearing Mr. Dilks shout, “Yeah!” in the middle of one of your solos.

I also had great fun taking music theory with him as a senior. As one of only five people in the class, it was an intimate, laid-back, yet challenging course, where I learned a lot. But graduation wouldn’t be the end of my association with Mr. Dilks. As a student at Rowan University, I noticed he was teaching a music theory class and I jumped at the chance to take it. At the beginning of the class, he made it clear that it was a class for music majors only, and asked any non-music majors to raise their hands. I raised my hand, he looked at me and said something to the effect of, “you’re fine, you should know this stuff anyway.” So I remained in the class as the only non-music major and did quite well.

The last time I saw Mr. Dilks was at the band reunion we had a few years back. Of course he remembered me and asked how I’d been and also asked about my parents. He looked like he was having the time of his life reminiscing with former students. I hope we can have another reunion soon, and perhaps make it a celebration of Mr. Dilks’ career. I don’t know if he realizes the level of impact he has had on so many people, but we should make that sure he does.

Congratulations on your retirement, Mr. Dilks. You’ve earned it.

Michael Rappa
Alto/Tenor Sax, 1985-1989

Sadly, we never did have another reunion but I know that he felt the love and appreciation of generations of students upon his retirement. Rest in peace, Mr. Dilks.