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Former NU choir director Don Baggett to be honored this Sunday

Nevada County this Sunday will celebrate the life of one of the region’s biggest musical influences — Don Baggett — at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

The celebration of life will be punctuated by trombone and choir performances, as well as various speeches from former students and colleagues.

“It’s gonna be a full celebration,” said Rod Baggett, Don Baggett’s son and the current choir director. “He had a big impact on music in this community.”

Don Baggett died in January. He was 85.


The Baggett family invites the community to celebrate the life of Don Baggett and the music he brought to the foothills and beyond.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Nevada County Fairgrounds, Whitney Pavilion, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley

The program will include memories shared by former colleagues, administrators, church leaders, and students. It will also feature music performed by former students and friends, by a trombone ensemble, and by his sons.

In the interest of space and health concerns, the family has chosen an outdoor venue at the fairgrounds for the occasion. In lieu of flowers, send memorial donations to First Baptist Church of Grass Valley by calling 530-273-7301, Hospice of the Foothills by calling 530-272-5739, or Nevada Union Choir Boosters at http://www.nuchoir.org/donate.

Rod Baggett attributes his father’s success in developing the Nevada Union High School choir program to the man’s approachability.

“He was from humble beginnings,” Baggett said, describing the Live Oak native as sophisticated, but never overly pompous.

“He had a high level of expectation in his music, but he believed anybody could approach and achieve that,” Baggett said. “He believed any of the students could accomplish what you as a teacher were capable of teaching them, which puts the burden back on the teacher.”

Baggett said his father was an only child, whose mother encouraged and supported him throughout his adolescence. Don Baggett was not as trained as some of his peers when he began a professional education in music on a college level, but Rod Baggett said he did not heed discouraging words from his mentors.

The positivity Don Baggett had, that Rod Baggett attributes to his own grandmother, was infectious.

“He went into life with this positive attitude of, ‘I can accomplish anything,’” Rod Baggett said. “He had a college professor or two that told him that he should change his major. He came into college way under-educated than other students who had private piano lessons, understood music history — he went into college without any of that background.

“He didn’t listen to people who told him he couldn’t do things,” he added. “He was discouraged when he started taking kids on Europe trips, but he did it anyways.”

Don Baggett began a tradition of taking high school students abroad every two years in 1978, with a class trip to Mexico.

“After that, he did Europe trips every other year until he retired in ’95 and I continued doing the the thing,” Rod Baggett said.


Rod Baggett said he and his father never discussed music philosophy in a formal setting.

“We did talk about how we all believe that music is something that brings people together and singing is something that’s different than an instrument — it’s something that comes from your soul versus something that is outside your body,” Rod Baggett said.

The former choir director used to ask people what instrument they play as a conversation starter, Rod Baggett said.

“Students were sharing stories at these rehearsals,” Rod Baggett said. “It wasn’t even about the music, it was just him being approachable.” He added that his father was strict when it came to behavior in and out of the classroom, but he was respected and loved like a parent.

“For many kids — and one student said — he was the closest he ever had to a father,” Rod Baggett said. “Some people don’t have the strong home life and he was that constant, positive, male role model that they would spend more time with him at school than with their parents.”

Sixteen trombone players who Don Baggett used to perform with and 80 former students will make up the choir. Rod Baggett will also perform a song with his three brothers.

The set list includes “How lovely is thy dwelling place“ from Brahm’s Requiem and African American spirituals.

Rod Baggett said the choir will also perform a rendition of “Shenandoah” — a tradition established by Rod’s father for the choir’s trip abroad once every two years — and will close with “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

When Don Baggett retired as choir director at Nevada Union High School after 36 years in 1995, the second of his four sons took over the Nevada Union choir. Don Baggett taught for another five years part time and finished, stepping away after 41 years. Even then, Rod Baggett said Don would substitute teach for his son on occasion.

The choir director’s legacy in the region goes beyond student testimonies. Nevada Union High School’s designated performance theater is named after Don Baggett.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

Don Baggett
Submitted to The Union

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