A young fourth grader shyly ventured into class, lagging behind the rest of his peers. As the other students fiddled around, he was drawn to the smallest instruments lying in the back. Even though he did not speak English, he knew he wanted to play. With help from his translating peers, he told orchestra teacher Catherine DeVos that he wanted to play the violin. Eight years later, senior Liam Zhu sits in the first row of the student orchestra, conducted by DeVos who has taught him everything he knows about the violin. DeVos said that students like Zhu are the reason that she loves teaching.
“To have students from fourth grade to high school, that is what makes the job so incredible,” DeVos said. “Music teachers are the only ones who get to experience that.”
After 37 years, DeVos is retiring, bringing an end to her time at Piedmont, DeVos said. Her musical journey, however, began long before she came to Piedmont. She said that she received her first flute underneath the Christmas tree in the sixth grade
“She is truly a superb flutist,” said Music Assistant and long-time friend of DeVos, Jan D’Annunzio.
DeVos went on to study at the University of St. Louis where she learned how to play a variety of instruments including many of the strings that she teaches now. She later moved to the Bay Area to study flute and flute performance at the San Francisco Conservatory, DeVos said.
Despite her commitment to the flute, Devos said that her favorite instrument is actually the bass.
“In my next life, I would like to be a bass player because with the bass you can play classical and rock and roll,” DeVos said.
Junior and student of DeVos since elementary school Camille Creighton said that DeVos’ constant goal is to make her students enjoy music as much as she does.
“If someone does not understand a passage, she will get up out of her conductor chair and go up over to their stands and help them through it note by note,” Creighton said.
DeVos also has fun with her students, and encourages their love of music with her humorous personality. She is not afraid to hear her students’ recommendations about the set-lists and tries to play engaging songs that she knows they will enjoy, Creighton said.
“We all love playing the Game of Thrones theme song because a lot of the class loves the show,” Creighton said.
“We all convinced her to start watching it, and she ended up going through four or five seasons in a couple months.”
Devos’ bright personality shines through during the annual Orchestra tour where the class busses down to Disneyland or to Universal Studios, Creighton said.
“It’s just a really fun time when we see her out of the classroom setting,” Creighton said. “She is just super open and she jokes a lot.”
D’Annunzio said that DeVos’ sense of humor is one of her best traits.
“She always makes me laugh,” said D’Annunzio. “She is really, really funny.”
Both from the Midwest and born in the same year, D’Annunzio and DeVos met about twenty years ago and became fast friends, D’Annunzio said.
“I’m sure kids in the music department have heard us arguing at times but it is all in good fun,” D’Annunzio said, “We fight like sisters.”
Despite her departure from Piedmont, DeVos said that she will continue to do what she loves most: perform. She played the flute for Acapella teacher Joe Piazza’s Golden Gate Men’s chorus earlier this year, and is in the process of preparing a piano-flute concert with her friend Christine Chi.
“I got to perform with Joe Piazza’s Golden Gate men’s choir this year,” DeVos said. “That was a blast.”
Orchestra is special because it brings people together, said Zhu. Without DeVos he would have never learned how to play the violin.
“I just want her to know that a lot of the kids who stayed in Orchestra throughout high school and in middle school did it for her because she is such an amazing teacher and an amazing person,” Creighton said.