On a night where Malibu High School’s winds and jazz musicians took the stage for their annual spring concert, an era was ending.
Bill Bixler, teacher of instrumental music, conducted his last concert at the high school on Thursday, May 15.
“I thought I was going to fall to pieces emotionally,” Bixler said. “But the music does something to you. It rescues you, in a way, emotionally. So I just got inside of the music.”
Bixler had taught at the high school for the past 19 years, and said he almost didn’t get the job initially.
During a speech after the concert, Bixler’s wife, Leslie Bixler, told the story of how the school lost his application and the position for which he applied had already been filled. But when the position opened up again one week before the school year, Bixler was called in and took the job.
“There was barely a music department at all before he came,” said Robben Bixler, who added that his father started at Malibu a couple of years before his birth. “By the time I knew what was happening, he already started to bring everything up from the ground.”
Bixler said he had 14 kids to teach when he started in the early 1990s. Since, he has grown the music department and touched the lives of many, including Malibu alumnus Jared Weinstein, who played saxophone at the concert.
“It was really nostalgic being back up on stage because I remember doing performance after performance up here with him conducting and him playing along sometimes,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein went on to study at New York University and graduated in 2011. He said Bixler taught him “how to vibe, how to go with the flow and just play.”
“I think that really resonated with me,” Weinstein said. “Instead of ‘read this chart, read this chart, play it perfect,’ it was kind of about feeling the music and experiencing the music at the same time. That’s what I like to carry along with me.”
The spring concert featured music played by Malibu Middle School and the high school jazz and winds bands. Many of the students, including Robben Bixler, had the chance to perform solos with their respective instruments.
After the music, Bixler’s wife, son and colleagues gave emotional speeches and shared stories about Bixler’s impact on them and the school as a whole. Bixler was given a bouquet of roses after conducting the last number.
“They were saying things that I’d forgotten about,” Bixler said. “I just realized what wonderful people I have as my family.”
As a special tribute to Bixler, lyrics were written to the tune of “Hey Jude” by The Beatles. The song was renamed “Hey Bill,” and sung by the entire audience as Bixler stood listening on the right side of the stage.
“And after school has come and gone, you will live on, we cherish the music that you gave us,” said one lyric of the song.
Now that he is retired, Bixler said he will reconnect with his wife, tend to his garden, work on his house and visit some of his friends.
But while Robben Bixler may be losing a teacher to retirement, he is not losing the man he considers his best friend since fifth grade.
“I’m still going to be around him,” Robben Bixler said. “He’s still my dad.”