David Irish isn’t afraid to take risks. He changed the focus of Palo Verde High School’s music program to be “concert-centric,” which was criticized at first, but then commended in the years that followed. “Our focus at Palo Verde is on the standard repertoire that made us fall in love with music,” he explained. “We choose to focus on 30- to 40-minute concerts instead of a competitive marching show. While we still provide our community with a collegiate-style show band, we emphasize falling in love with concert music over competition.”
According to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Mr. Irish’s creative idea for establishing a concert-centric program has drawn the focus away from competitive results and re-focused on individual student success.” This move has had some financial benefits as well, with graduating seniors earning scholarships that increased tenfold from $10,000 per year to $100,000.
Under his leadership, the enrollment in orchestra has tripled. “Passion, energy and high expectations bring students to our program and keep them engaged,” Irish said. “We bring our feeder schools in each year to perform at a pre-festival concert. If students don't know what the next step is, they may never walk in the door.”
Irish finds way to engage his music students. Through a partnership with the Nevada School of the Arts, he instituted a weekly masterclass for strings on each instrument for the orchestra program — the first of its kind in Las Vegas. He also started a vigorous solo and ensemble program and in an innovative community outreach effort, he coordinated grand finale concerts with the local public library. He formed a full symphony orchestra at Palo Verde and created a class for year-round comprehensive symphonic orchestra curriculum.
He also co-hosted the inaugural Las Vegas Concert Band Festival, an affiliate of the Music for All National Festival, which “offers nationally renowned evaluators, an unrated, non-competitive environment, a 45-minute clinic and a peer-based audience block,” Irish said.
In another nomination letter, a former colleague wrote, “David’s teaching style went beyond just teaching the notes and maybe the history of the music. He taught students to feel the music and how to transfer the emotion of that music to the audience.”