Borrowing a line from the great Don McLean’s classic song American Pie, April 19, 1989 was “the day the music died” here in Amsterdam, NY. The greatest trumpet player ever to be born in our community who became the beloved director of the instrumental program at Amsterdam High School left us on that day, after a valiant struggle with a horrific cancer.
I still remember the first time I ever heard Mike Pallotta play the trumpet and the very last time too. The first was in 1965 on the stage of the Wilbur Lynch High School auditorium, when our elementary school band went up there to practice for an upcoming concert. As we were taking the stage to begin our rehearsal, the AHS Stage Band was just leaving it and Pallotta was packing up his horn. The director of our band asked him to play something for us and though I don’t remember what it was he played I will never forget the sound that came out of his instrument. We all just sat there with our mouths open.
He was born on August 12, 1951, the son of Nick and Mary Salerno Pallotta. The family lived at 99 Center Street and young Michael spent much of his childhood hanging out with his South Side friends and cousins in the neighborhood streets and popular gathering spots that made the old Fifth Ward such an idyllic place to grow up. By the time he reached Junior High School he was already pretty much considered a prodigy with his horn. When he got to Wilbur Lynch, he helped the brass sections in the high school band, orchestra and especially the stage band create sounds that have never been duplicated, before or since.
It didn’t matter in which ensemble he was playing, whoever was conducting knew they had a true star in their midst and at some point during the evening a spotlight would shine, Amsterdam’s young trumpet master would stand up, clear his horn with a quick spit valve release, do a practice flutter of the valves with the fingers of his right hand, flex his lips, wait for his cue and then proceed to blow the audience away with a featured solo. And since I played the same instrument, I knew exactly what Pallotta had to be doing with his fingers, lips, tongue and breathing, not to mention the years of serious practice it took to make those incredibly beautiful sounds happen and I was in awe.
After graduating from AHS in 1969 he got his bachelor’s degree at Ohio Northern University and then spent a year in the music performance program at the prestigious Berkley School of Music in Boston. He then went on to get his Masters from Brockport. Mike also got married to his lovely wife Kathi Gould and their union would produce three children.
He was first hired by the Johnstown School District as an instrumental music teacher in the late 1970’s and students, staff and parents of that Fulton County community instantly fell in love with him. Fortunately for Amsterdam’s future musicians, Pallotta’s goal was to return to his hometown and teach here…
My complete birthday post for this incredibly talented musician will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.
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