Many high school teachers have hidden musical talents. In the first of a two-part series, teachers reveal their “note-able” musical backgrounds.
The high school faculty members’ annual roast or toast skits for graduating seniors are all memorable – but the singing protein boxes or Eminem spinoffs that science teacher Kellie Whited and dean of student life Patricia Jacobsen perform often take the cake.
Jacobsen’s musical performances began in 2006-07, when she first signed up to do skits.
She didn’t know what to perform, she said, so she asked former head of high school Sue Nellis for advice. Nellis told Jacobsen to try a rap, as Jacobsen often listened to rap music.
Jacobsen rapped that year for Amir Seyal, ’07, with much success; since then, she’s performed musical skits from raps to pop songs and even the Country Day fight song.
Whited said she prefers songs because they’re easier.
“You have a limited number of words, and you get to have more fun with them,” she said.
“(Physics teacher Glenn) Mangold can do a whole skit where he’s just talking, and it’s funny, but I’m not that creative,” she said.
Whited said she and Jacobsen often collaborate because they work well together and have similar ideas.
They prepare for their skits by keeping track of students’ quirks, repeated phrases and behavior. Jacobsen takes notes throughout the year, whereas Whited takes notes more frequently in the second half of the year, when she knows whom she will perform a skit about.
Both Jacobsen and Whited said one of their favorite skits was their rap battle in 2016 for then seniors Serajh Esmail and Jag Lally.
In that skit, they were dressed as giant boxes of protein powder and pretended to be Esmail and Lally, who were obsessed with fitness, selling protein powder in college.
“We had (Esmail and Lally) convinced we weren’t doing their skit,” Whited said.
“They were the very last (students) to get their skit, so they were sweating the whole time, and then we came out in these huge boxes.
“It was so much fun!”
Jacobsen said her favorite thing about the skits is when everything comes together.
For example, she wanted to perform a version of Soulja Boy’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” for a skit for Avi Bhullar, ’17, but her notes on Bhullar would not work with the song’s rhythm. Jacobsen tried other songs, but they wouldn’t work either.
When she finally found one that did – the Country Day fight song – it was amazing, Jacobsen said.
“When I’m on a roll, and it’s all coming together, it’s awesome because I can get (the skit) to really mean something to the student,” she said.
French teacher Richard Day plays both the guitar and the harmonica. The harmonica, he said, was the first instrument he ever played; he began learning when he was 13.
Day chose the harmonica because of his affection for blues, which his brother introduced him to.
“In blues, one of the most popular instruments is the harmonica, so my brother started playing it,” he said. “Then I started copying him.”
However, when Day was a senior in high school, his music taste shifted from blues to jazz, motivating him to take up the guitar, he said.
Day said he took one guitar lesson in his twenties and, in more recent years, some lessons from guitarists Steve Homan and Charlie Baty.
He began playing live music when he moved to Davis in the fall of 1987, Day said; the first band he played with was a blues band called the Rudiments.
After that, he played for a few years with Dave and the Generators, which was founded by one of Day’s close friends, Dave Nachmanoff.
Furthermore, Day occasionally joins Hardwater, a rock, blues and folk band that plays both cover tunes and their own music.
He also currently plays with Kindred Spirits, which Day said focuses both on folk and “world music,” such as African songs.
Besides performing in bands, Day said he also gets invited to play at shows as a sit-in because he knows many Davis musicians.
At school, Day was a member of the faculty jazz band, founded by band teacher Bob Ratcliff, and also of Ratcliff’s 10-piece jazz band, the Bob Ratcliff Little Big Band.
“I’m not a formally trained musician, so I was learning a lot,” Day said.
Day said his favorite thing about playing is when he gets in “the zone,” a point where he is so concentrated that “it feels like the music is flowing through (me).”
“It’s just the greatest feeling. It’s almost like you’re on another planet,” he said.
He also appreciates it when the audience reacts well to his performance, especially because he often plays just “background music.”
For example, Day said, in late September he and a group of musicians played songs from the ’60s for two Summer of Love Festivals in Davis (one at the Odd Fellows Hall and one at the Sudwerk Dock Store), where the audience enjoyed the concert immensely.
“Everybody knew the songs, and they were up dancing,” he said. “It was a blast!”
But Day doesn’t love everything about playing. For instance, he said he suffers from stage fright when playing the guitar, often not wearing glasses during his performances so he can’t see the audience.
When he was in high school, science teacher Glenn Mangold was part of the school choir, an “ensemble” singing group and a barbershop quartet. He sang bass in each group and also played saxophone and clarinet in the school band.
Mangold sang from seventh to 12th grade. He has not continued singing, he said, except during the senior roasts and toasts.
His high school choir was an optional class taught every day by the school’s music teacher. Mangold said there were about 60 to 100 students in the class. They performed three times a year.
“I joined (the class) because I liked music,” he said. “I enjoyed being in it with my friends, (and) the teacher was very good.”
Mangold also liked the diverse works students sang. The songs covered a wide range of time periods, such as Gregorian chants and Chinese choral music.
His favorite songs were the pieces that he sang by Bach.
Mangold said he was never taunted for singing, as it was very common back then for boys to sing. In fact, he said, there were almost as many boys in his choir as girls.
—By Héloïse Schep