Mt. Shasta High School's Greg Eastman
● By Gary VanDeWalker
Hark the HeraldDecember 2014
By Gary Vandewalker
December snow floats in small flakes in the dark evening as the angelic strains of Christmas singers move through the silent night. The windows of the building glow with a warm soft light as a crowd sits together watching. The eyes of the singers follow in unison the graceful arm motions of director Greg Eastman, as the Mount Shasta High School choirs deliver their annual Candlelight Concert against the brisk cold air of the mountain community.
Eastman’s musical journey began on Friday nights as he grew up. His grandfather, a fill-in guitarist for the Sons of the Pioneers, would come over and his brother would play drums as his dad played the ukulele. Eastman’s fingers would roll over the piano keys while songs and laughter filled the room. He would perform in church, joining the high school
bands and choirs at McCloud High School.
As college approached, Eastman balanced his love of music against a degree in pre-medicine in order to become a veterinarian. “My music teacher took me aside,” he says. “He counseled me to go into pre-med as I didn’t have enough musical background for a degree in music.
That sealed it for me; I chose a major in musical education.”
With an emphasis on trombone, Eastman discovered his teacher knew him well. The music program at Pacific Union in the Napa Valley was rigorous. “The dean took me aside, acknowledged the difficulties, but gave his freshman student a year to catch up and prove himself,” Eastman says. Four years later he held his degree and a job, given the opportunity to be the teacher at the Pacific Union Preparatory School, working with high school students. After six years, Eastman and his wife, Sandy, moved back to McCloud, teaching where he had
once been a student. Five years later, he took over the baton at Mount Shasta High School, where he has been for 21 years.
The Mount Shasta program boasts extraordinary numbers for a music program. The average high school sees 15 percent of its students in music classes. Eastman’s program is filled with 70 percent of the student body of 340 students. Eastman says, “A mentor told me, get the quarterback in the choir and you’ll never lack for students.” He coached three sports, drawing students into his classes. “I even challenged students to play basketball and if I won, they had to join choir.”
In an era where many schools are losing their music programs, Mount Shasta’s is finding tremendous encouragement. “The Mount Shasta Education Foundation has provided for 70 percent of the equipment we use,” Eastman says. “The community backs the arts. Also, from the our first date 38 years ago, my wife Sandy has been an amazing support and rock.”
Eastman has his worries. “In six years, I may retire,” he says. “I look at the end of every rehearsal and I’m less likely to blow off time. Summers seem long. I fear I’m not going to have enough time to introduce my students to all the great music.”
This year, on December 7, is the 15th annual Candlelight Concert. All of Eastman’s vocalists will be there, including the class he now teaches at Weed High School. “It began as an excuse to not sing in the gym,” Eastman says. “For the first four years we gave a single performance at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Highway 89. Now, we have to give back-to-back performances at 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm, just to fit everyone in.”
Music is a passion for Eastman. “Music is one of the few activities that stimulates all the brain. Students learn to be confident and interface with others,” Eastman says. “Few of these students will go on to careers in music; however; they are changed by taking these classes.” As his students are quiet, looking over their test in music theory, Eastman remembers a conversation with his mentor, 22 years prior. “My mentor said some things you can’t change, but attitude isn’t one. When I’m gone from here, I want to be remembered for the positive attitude I left behind.”