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An Everlasting Legacy: Crawford Signs Off at South Pasadena High

The guest of honor sat in a rocking chair wearing a black sash with gold letters that said it all: “The legend has retired.”
Howard Crawford was treated like royalty by more than 250 former students, band boosters, parents and family members who gathered last Saturday to honor him on his retirement after leading the music program at South Pasadena High School for 34 years.
“It’s surreal. All these people here for me?” Crawford said before the program started, flashing a broad smile and admitting once again that he was a man of few words when it came to public speaking.
And, when he was finally called up to speak after a variety of tributes, most of Crawford’s words focused on his students.
“This is not about me. … It is about the kids and it’s about the music,” he told the group gathered in the school’s courtyard as he fought back emotions.
People clustered like groupies in the school’s patio around Crawford to give him a hug, shake his hand, thank him or share a memory.
Crawford has said he plans to spend much more time in retirement playing woodwind instruments — sax, flute and clarinet in various groups — an activity he loves and never had enough time to pursue.
Former and current band members wore badges indicating their graduation date and instrument. Even alum who were part of Crawford’s first year at SPHS came out to celebrate the longtime director, such as Yang Hu and Andrea Wong. The two former students brought him champagne with a designer label decorated with a trombone and clarinet.
“I haven’t seen him in 10 years, but when I went up to him, he remembered my name,” Wong said. “He was always so relatable.”
Hu shared the same sentiment and reminisced on his time in high school.
“There was a level of trust with Mr. Crawford,” Hu remembered. “I remember always hanging out in the band room. You always felt comfortable when you were around him.”
Holly Choe, who graduated from SPHS in 2009 and was a former drum major, sent a letter to Crawford apologizing for her absence. Nevertheless, her message was shared to the audience.
“The band was such an integral part of our lives,” wrote Choe, who has come a long way in her music career since high school. Once an up-and-coming conductor, Choe led several noted orchestras in Europe and was just named as one of four Gustavo Dudamel fellows at the LA Phil for the upcoming season.
“Many of us used the band room as a refuge,” Choe wrote. “Some of us were super awkward kids outside of the band room, but we knew when you entered the band room, we were accepted just as we were. We didn’t feel the need for pressure to change ourselves to fit in. The band room was a safe space for us to hold our personalities however we wanted. You provided that safe space for us.”
Choe recalled the first time playing for Crawford.
“We were in that small practice room … and I was playing my clarinet. My first impression of you was like meeting a gentle giant.”
Crawford’s daughter Karissa Uko choked back tears as she described her father as a “humble man whose impact is immeasurable.”
“He deserves this day and all the beautiful notes he has gotten online,” said Uko, who told the group that Crawford’s Facebook page was full of heartwarming messages from around the country.
“I ask everyone not to let his legacy be forgotten,” she added.
Carrying on that legacy is former band member Josh Aguiar, who went on to become a professional musician as a well-known jazz trumpeter.
“He introduced me to my career,” Aguiar said.
Aguiar has also earned a master’s degree and doctorate, and now teaches music at Santa Monica College and California State University, Northridge.
“He’s an important person to a lot of kids, and, most especially, to me,” Aguiar said. “He gave me confidence and said that it was OK for me to do what I wanted to do.”
Of course, there were the official salutes, musical interludes, and gifts of a check with funds collected by members of the community, former band members and Music Boosters.
His current band gave him a gift card to the LA Phil. Other gifts included a framed copy of a feature story of him from The South Pasadena Review, and a baton engraved with the humorous name that he gave himself: Francoise Ezekiel Ish Kabibble. The Music Boosters were already gathering signatures to rename the music room in honor of Crawford.
The most precious gifts from the two-hour gathering were the parade of memories shared by those in attendance about the humble man with the big smile.
It was a symphony of sweet sentiments to say goodbye to the conductor, teacher, mentor and gentle giant with the baton: Howard Crawford.

SPHS band president Elisa Argus takes center stage with retiring music director Howard Crawford during a celebration of his career and legacy at the SPHS Tiger Patio
The SPHS community celebrates Howard Crawford left during a celebration of his career and legacy on June 1
Howard Crawford served as the South Pasadena High School Director of Instrumental Music for more than three decades. — Photos by Mia Alva / The Review

First published in the June 7 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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