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Cliff Eveland honored for Excellence in Education

Petaluma High School music teacher Cliff Eveland is surrounded by his students.

John O'Hara / For the Argus-Courier
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 1:55 p.m.

When a kid catches the love of music in Petaluma, it’s likely that Petaluma High School Music Director Cliff Eveland had something to do with it. Not only has he led and expanded the high school’s musical offerings over the last 17 years, he’s also the driving force behind the Petaluma Music festival, which has raised about $75,000 for Petaluma elementary, middle and high school music programs at a time when state funding for such programs is scarce.

For his efforts, Cliff was honored with the Excellence in Education award at this year’s Community Awards of Excellence event last month, sponsored by the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce and Petaluma Argus-Courier.

Eveland directs band classes at PHS, advises the Drum Line and Color Guard, and has developed the Wind Ensemble, the Jazz Combo, and the Junior Varsity Jazz Ensemble. Under his direction, the bands, choirs, Color Guard and Drum Line have placed first in numerous competitions and festivals around California.

And that’s just his day job.

Eveland, a father of three young children, is also director of the Petaluma Music Festival, putting in an estimated 1,200 hours a year to ensure that the festival has a great lineup of up-and-coming musicians that will draw a crowd to the fairgrounds for the annual fundraiser.

Mark Mooney, who is chairman of the board for the festival, first met Eveland when his children were students in Eveland’s music program. He recalled how the Petaluma Music Festival got started in 2008.

At the time, Mooney was president of the music boosters for PHS. Together, Eveland and Mooney took a look at the funding needs for the school’s music program and decided they needed to find a way to bring in more money.

“We decided, ‘let’s have a run,’ and we got all excited about the first annual Tuba Trot,” Mooney recalled. They planned to coordinate the footrace with the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Wine, Jazz & Blues Festival. But, when they reached out to see about coordinating the two events, they found that the chamber was considering discontinuing the festival.

So, they offered to step in and help organize the musical event in lieu of the Tuba Trot.

“We thought, ‘Gee, we’re more qualified to do something about music than running,’” Eveland said with a laugh. “I didn’t know anything about running.”

The first festival went “OK,” Eveland said — it drew a big crowd but didn’t raise any money.

The next year, the Chamber of Commerce declined to continue the event but Eveland and others persisted, moving it to the larger venue of the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds.

Despite a small turnout, Eveland stuck with it, and the event has only grown since then, casting off the limits of jazz and blues genres to encompass all kinds of music. Large crowds turned out in 2011 and 2012 in particular. The festival raised about $30,000 each of those years for local music programs.

“We’re lucky to have him as an organizer,” said Mooney, adding that Eveland’s musical sensibilities help him pick up-and-coming acts that are just hitting the big-time when they’re booked at the Petaluma Music Festival.

That talent and passion translates back to the classroom, where Eveland, able to play a variety of instruments, has helped many students catch the music bug.

“Cliff cares deeply about music and the process of music education,” said PHS Principal David Stirrat.

Upon being honored for his work, Eveland commented that receiving the award seemed backwards — that he was the lucky one.

“I have a job I really enjoy,” he said. “I have some of best students at Petaluma High School. I get to know them on a level most teachers never get to know their students, since I teach many of them for four years.”

He added that he felt the same way about the festival. “It’s an enjoyable experience, and I get to create an awesome event,” he said. “I feel like I’m an extremely lucky person.”

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@arguscourier.com.)

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