Mr. Wilson’s second act: Virtuoso’s progression from SF Opera to middle-school classroom

Jill Tucker:

Now, he’s Mr. Wilson the music teacher. Instead of playing Puccini’s “La Bohème” at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, the 58-year-old maestro is working up to 14 hours a day coaxing “Jingle Bells” out of beginners and pouring much of his life savings into bringing music back to a school where 95 percent of students live in poverty. If he can take kids who can’t play a note and teach them a song, Wilson believes, they will not just feel successful, but see new possibilities everywhere in their lives.

It is his fourth year of teaching at DeJean, of testing that belief. And, though he doesn’t know it yet, it also will be his last.

So he stands on the platform, this unconventional man with disheveled hair and bloodshot eyes, a black apron on his waist to hold pens, bathroom passes and good-behavior raffle tickets, and waits for his students to quiet down. Only when the chatter finally abates by an almost imperceptible decibel does he begin to count: One and two and three and …

The students play. The notes aren’t perfect. A trumpet is flat, and a trombone is off by an octave. But the song is unmistakable: The itsy bitsy spider is climbing up the water spout.

When the music stops. Wilson jumps off the stage, then leaps again, spinning in a circle, his glasses bouncing. His five band classes, mostly students who picked up an instrument for the first time five weeks earlier, have played a song together.