CMEA winner Pakaluk leads 19 musicians to All-State


Medha Upadhyay, Features Editor

There is an anticipatory hush in the air as musicians stand at the ready, gripping their instruments firmly as they wait for the signal from conductor Michael Pakaluk. A swish of his hand launches the students into a symphony. It is this kind of performance that sets the Lynbrook band and orchestra apart from the competition, and recently earned them distinguished accolades.

On Jan. 11, Pakaluk was awarded the California Music Education Association (CMEA) Section Outstanding Orchestra Educator award at the CMEA Bay Section Winter conference. After heavy deliberation, the CMEA executive board awarded Pakaluk for his excellence in orchestra education and performance. While the board ultimately picks the winners for each of the 17 awards, any CMEA member, student or teacher can nominate a candidate. Awards recognize a wide range of musical educators, from those instructing at the elementary to college level, and cover many areas of expertise, from ethnic to choral music.

“The achievement of Mr. Pakaluk’s ensembles and the high level of his orchestras made him stand out,” said Bruce Lengacher, CMEA Bay Section president. “The person who nominated Mr. Pakaluk also mentioned that he was not an orchestra expert to begin with and worked at his string pedagogy to achieve the high standards that are evident in his program.”

While Pakaluk is now a certified musical expert, it was his parents who encouraged him to initially try music. His father persuaded him to pick up the trumpet in fourth grade, and Pakaluk eventually joined his school band. Pakaluk recalls that his school’s program never had more than 20 musicians, but he now teaches almost 250 students in five different groups.

“I’m blessed to have really outstanding musicians, and they make me look good when they perform,” Pakaluk said. “It’s amazing to win awards, but I don’t teach to try and get awards. I’m just trying to guide my students and let them show their talents. ”

Lynbrook musicians are unquestionably skilled, but a proficient director is required to take a group of strong musicians and create a symphony. While Pakaluk’s job is not always straightforward, listening to his students grasp a difficult piece makes it all worthwhile.  

“I realize that students want to be part of something great. They want to be challenged,” Pakaluk said. “But they also want to have fun. Music is something different for everyone, and I’ve learned that from my students.”

While band and orchestra are much-needed stress relievers for many students, they also serve as sources of pride. On Jan. 6, 19 Lynbrook students were selected for the All-State Band and Orchestra, the most in California. They will travel to Fresno from Feb. 14-17, when they will collaborate with peers from all over California.

“All-State auditions are challenging, but luckily, Mr. Pakaluk is always willing to help,” said senior Iryl Tan, who made All-State for the first time this year. “For my audition, he sat down and went through every section of the music with me. He showed me how to interpret the piece so that it set me apart from the other people.”  

Over the years, Lynbrook musicians have learned and grown together, from performing at Carnegie Hall to playing in a world-class concert hall in Zaragoza, Spain. Through determination and relentless practice, Lynbrook students have built a reputation of musical excellence. While Pakaluk refuses to take credit for the music department’s success, his expertise has served as a guiding force for his students.

“Mr. Pakaluk understands the different dimensions of a piece, not just the outer layer,” said sophomore Richard Chiu, who will be attending All-State for the second time. “He can bring out the colors that the composer meant for the band to play. He knows the inner workings of the music, and he makes us look for the finer details. He makes us more aware of what we’re playing, and I think that that’s really valuable.”

Pakaluk’s title as Outstanding Orchestra Educator of the year is proof of the skill and experience that he brings to the music department, and is just one of the many things that the Lynbrook community admires about him.