August Concert Paid Fitting Tribute to Sean Castle


Elisabeth Fox, Contributor

On August 29, 2021 the San Rafael High School Music Boosters held a tribute concert at the San Rafael Community Center in honor of a once in a lifetime music teacher, Sean Castle. Tragically, Mr. Castle passed away on June 28, 2021 due to an unexpected heart attack, leaving the SRHS community in shock. 

A graduate from San Rafael High School who returned to teach at his alma mater after graduating from UCLA, Mr. Castle devoted his career to teaching the one thing he loved most: music. As the jazz choir, jazz band and wind ensemble teacher, he was able to create a strong connection with every student and nurture a bond with them throughout their four years of high school. 

“If you knew Sean Castle, he would’ve changed your life for good,” said Dana Cherry, a childhood friend and performer at the tribute concert. After a handful of students sang the national anthem, Cherry performed the song “For Good” from the popular Broadway musical Wicked. Cherry asked Mr. Castle’s family if she could sing this song as her tribute to Mr. Castle. His mother was said to have thanked her more than once for performing this song, since it holds a significant importance to them. For those whose lives were touched by Mr. Castle, the lyrics were the most fitting for this occasion. 

In her fifth year of being president of the San Rafael High School Music Boosters, Cindy Chung was an important player in coordinating this tribute to Mr. Castle. She said that it wasn’t a single person’s decision to hold this event, but “a collective decision by everyone in the music boosters.” The San Rafael High School Music Boosters Program is a parent organization where they fundraise and hold events to help pay for instrument repairs and for field trips, such as the Santa Cruz Jazz Festival (a competition to which Mr. Castle regularly took both his jazz choir and band students). 

“Part of putting on something like this and honoring him was a way to get through the grief,” said Chung when asked about the reasoning behind this event. This event was held a month after the funeral service, which was hosted by Mr. Castle’s family at San Rafael First Presbyterian Church on Saturday, July 24, 2021. Many families and students were still on summer break and were unable to attend this funeral service, so it was well received when another service was announced by the Music Boosters to be held after school would be back in session. The service abided by all COVID restrictions directed by the CDC. Individuals were in the seating area in the pews, in the standing room in the back, and even filed into the outdoor quad of the church premises. Masks were required. 

For one of the final acts for Mr. Castle’s tribute concert, high school junior Kendra Chung, Cindy Chung’s daughter, high school senior Elena Pletcher and high school senior Jack Healy were all students of Mr. Castle´s who took part in the large jazz ensemble to close the event. As a group, they had one group rehearsal before the concert, but after that they had to commit to practicing on their own until the August 29 date came around. The 23 student ensemble played three pieces: “Cantaloupe Island,” composed by Herbie Hancock, “Work Song” by Nat “Cannonball” Adderley, and “Freddie Freeloader” by Miles Davis. 

Cooper Burdick, a San Rafael High School senior, was a tenor in Mr. Castle’s jazz choir for three years. 2021 would’ve been his fourth year with his beloved music teacher. He recalled the moment when Mr. Castle announced that he became engaged to his long-time girlfriend. It suddenly dawned on him that ¨it showed really how he’s just a person like everyone else.¨ 

When Burdick’s mother approached him about performing at the tribute concert, he knew immediately that he had to perform to honor Mr. Castle and demonstrate how much of an influence Mr. Castle really was. He sang “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban, with piano accompaniment by Brendan Bacon, a SRHS Class of 2020 graduate. Burdick felt this song would be the best way to express all that Mr. Castle did for him as well as all his other students. 

Not only did Mr. Castle’s current SRHS students come to pay tribute to their beloved teacher, but many SRHS graduates returned from their universities. Class of 2020 graduate Taylor Smith, who now attends the University of California, San Diego, took jazz choir all four years of high school and loved the environment Mr. Castle made at school. This encouraged her return each year, as well as her passion for music. 

¨He was honestly one of the only teachers at the school that treated his students like friends,¨ Smith recalled. She and Ellie Brode, another Class of 2020 graduate, performed a duet of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” composed by Elton John, however the arrangement by Sarah Bareilles. Smith also sang in a group of 8 singers after her duet with Brode. This group of students sang “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” by Randy Newman, and “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5.  

Shortly after hearing about Mr. Castle’s passing, Smith was approached by Chung to perform a song that reminded her of her high school music teacher. During her junior year at SRHS, Smith performed Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with Mr. Castle and the jazz choir at the time. She worked alongside Mr. Castle with that piece since she began the song solo. Once she was asked to perform, she knew that this was the song she wanted to perform to honor her beloved music teacher. Even though they only had two rehearsals before the event, “the whole performance was closure that I didn’t know I needed,” said Smith. 

About an hour into the concert, Marcia Miget and her son Jaimeo Brown performed a duet of Amazing Grace and “Swing Low Sweet Charioton the saxophone and the drums. Miget had known Mr. Castle for 33 years and was his saxophone teacher up until he graduated from San Rafael High School. 

Miget would occasionally go to San Rafael High School to accompany the jazz choir for concerts and competitions, so she was still able to be involved in Mr. Castle’s musical career. She spent 10 years working with the jazz choir and their instructor. She was pleased to have recognized a handful of his students from over the years, paying tribute to him up on stage. Miget commented that the turnout for the tribute concert, of both the performers and audience members, was confirmation for her that her former student and adult colleague in the music field had a lasting influence on so many student’s lives that were changed by his presence. 

A universal agreement among the organizers, performers, and audience members was that the concert met their expectations, and even more, and that they were able to properly honor their beloved teacher and friend. This seemed to be the only proper way to say goodbye to Mr. Castle and he will forever be in the hearts of all the members of the SRHS community.