3. MOSTLY MUSIC (high school)


I was blossoming creatively when I reached high school.   In junior high I had taken up the guitar and began singing with friends.  'Folk music' became my passion.  My early favorites were Jimmie Rodgers and the Kingston Trio, and I patterned myself after them.

Later came Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Ian & Sylvia, the New Lost City Ramblers and finally Bob Dylan...along with a host of others.

I grew up with music.   My mom loved musicals...Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, etc....and comic operas, especially Gilbert and Sullivan.   She knew the clever lyrics and catchy tunes to almost everyone and sang them to us from the time we were in the cradle.

Now, for the first time, I was focused almost entirely on music and the performing arts.


I was lucky to have had a fabulous music teacher and choral director, Bob Morton, with whom I had a great rapport and who encouraged me to stretch myself and perform.  He 'discovered' me.  I had no idea of taking music classes in high school but Mr. Morton, on a visit to my junior high school, recruited me to take his choral class.

When I got there, Mr. Morton all but tackled me to audition for an upcoming musical.   I was embarrassed to even tryout.   But I did, and got a part.   As my sophomore year approached, Bob 'drafted' me into the top high school vocal group, The Ensemble.



In my first year of high school I started a folk group.  I added the bell-like 5-string banjo to the instruments I played.   Over four years we played in all sorts of venues...small and big...including before an audience of 10,000 at the Hollywood Bowl.  And we had a couple of opportunities in the recording studios.  It was exciting times.  In those years, the group, like me, evolved through a variety of manifestations...

The performing arts offered all sorts of opportunities.   Music is like sports in that there is a great sense of camaraderie and teamwork among performers.   And I overcame any reticence I had in being in front of people.   In addition, in the many competitions and performances we had, Mr. Morton introduced us to all sorts of interesting and fascinating people I wouldn't have otherwise known.  


One of the most memorable of those individuals was the legendary African American composer, arranger and actor, Jester Hairston.  He was a tiny, wiry man that brought a pulsating energy and excitement into the room when he entered.  He came every other year to conduct his spiritual arrangements.  Those spirituals were often my favorites of the music we performed.

He invited The Ensemble to join him and sing with an African American choir he was conducting in Watts, California, a black community near Los Angeles.  What an incredible experience.  I had never been to a black church before and had never witnessed the sense of community and enthusiasm that those churches generate.  A leader in each row led the congregation in hallelujahs and amens at appropriate intervals.


During high school, to add spice to the experience, I entered into a variety of activities and tried on multiple personas: sports, politics, even cheerleading.  It rounded out my world and rounded out me, but none of it could compare with the joy I had creating music and art.



Serendipitously, my first summer in high school I enrolled in an art class. It was such a creative and fulfilling experience that I continued to take the class each summer until I graduated.

That changed my life.

Summer school started at 8:00 in the morning and ran for 4 hours straight---that gave me much more time and much more concentrated involvement than I would have had during the regular school year’s 50-minute classes.

Not only that, only the students who were truly dedicated would sign up for summer classes that began at 8am when they could otherwise lounge-in.  Consequently the classes were attended by choice, not by coercion.

On top of it all, a fantastic teacher, Yoshio Nakamura---himself a dedicated artist---taught the class each summer. His lectures, demonstrations, and exercises were college level, and he treated us as adults.

We were assigned sophisticated design, composition and color exercises.   We worked in all types of media: drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking.


One of the artists Yosh introduced me to was Rex Brandt, a popular California watercolor painter.   Yosh presented us with fascinating films of Brandt painting on location.   With just a few simple brushstrokes he could magically bring anything to life.  

He made it look so deceptively easy.  I was mesmerized by the films and later studied all the many books on painting that Brandt had published.  That influence made watercolor my medium of choice for years.

Yosh is now in his nineties and we have remained friends all these years.

ME (73) AND YOSH (93), 2018

Yosh thoroughly prepared me for what was soon to come...my university education in art...and gave me the solid background I used to pursue painting later as a career.

Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020  All rights reserved.


  1. Donald, you and many of the students were eager to learn, and devoted much energy, talent, and work in the classes that really inspired me to become a better teacher! Thanks for your kind words! I was fortunate to have you as a student and to watch you develop into a remarkable artist and person. You have also demonstrated your talent in writing. Seeing you with your recent paintings at the Beverly Hills Art Festival was a great experience. I have appreciated and enjoyed being in contact with you through the years.
    Yoshio C. Nakamura

    1. Yosh, you are remarkable and an inspiration at any age! But at 94 years-young, wow! That gives one hope!

      I'm forever grateful that our paths crossed.



Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

24. DRAFTED (what next?)

1. IN THE BEGINNING... (early childhood)