Student’s Letters From Ocotillo School

What a thrill it was to receive letters from Ms. Lyn Jacobson’s entire third-grade class at Ocotillo School in Palmdale, CA, where I had read “Horace the Great, Harmonica King,” the previous week for Dr. Seuss Day. Lyon Jacobson’s personal card was also appreciated.

I’m sure Lyn had written some sort of outline on the chalkboard for her students to use in reference to my reading and talk. But they still had to use their own skills and creativity in the letters they each wrote, and I could detect that.

Here are a few examples:

“I appreciate you volunteering to read to our class.”

“I loved ‘Horace the Great, Harmonica King,’ it was a great story.”

“My favorite part is when Maxwell the cat is thrown out in the cold.”

“I liked the story of your life when you were a musician.”

“I think I have one of your 38 children’s stories.”

“Which one of your stories is your favorite?”

“I like the part where Horace the mouse plays the harmonica.”

“It was very exciting when the cat tried to eat Horace.”

“I would like to read your other books.”

“I loved ‘Horace the Great,” because I play the harmonica.

“Thank you for telling us about your wife, the dancer.”

“I liked it when the harmonica fell on his head.”

“You are a nice guy, that is the end of my letter.”

“I like the part where the harmonica falls off her bracelet.”

“I appreciated the information you gave us about writing a book.”

“I like Max the cat because he’s fat and sneaky.”

“It’s so awesome you wrote this book”

“This book is funny and it makes people laugh.”

There were so many other comments and they were just as good and to the point.

I would like to thank all at Ocotillo School for inviting me to this most pleasurable event.

The entire session was recorded on video by Ben Andrews of ilivetodayav that eventually will be seen on YouTube.


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What a great time I had today. It’s moments like this that makes life worth living. I read to a wonderful third class at Ocotillo School in the Palmdale School District in Palmdale CA, where the teacher, Lyn Jacobson, made it so easy for me. The educational atmosphere was obvious the instant I walked in, and was sustained the entire time I was there. This was obviously a highly motivated group

It was Dr. Seuss Day at Ocotillo School where I had been invited to read. All the adult readers met in the auditorium a half hour before we began, where a child from each class was there to welcome and escort us to their respective classrooms. Already seated at the table in the auditorium munching on breakfast when I arrived, was my 21-year-old instructor, Ben Andrews, who’s been instilling in me in the secrets of promoting my books on the internet, called ilivetoday Antelope Valley. He was there to video my class reading so it would be on YouTube in the near future.

I spent a few minutes telling the young people about my three careers, professional trombonist, school band director and an author. I particularly stressed my last one as an author that began when I was 60 years old after I retired. I spoke about the importance of writing and how it would improve their performance as students. I didn’t want to get to heavy with them so at that point I began my book, “Horace the Great, Harmonica King.” I introduced the book by speaking about John MacFarlane, my illustrator, an animator by trade, who had recently worked with Disney on his movie, “The Princes and the Frog.” He also had done “Curious George,” for Stephen Spielberg.

As I began reading and Ben Andrews was shooting my performance, Lyn Jacobson, the teacher, came up front and held a copy of my book in the air showing the children the illustrations as I read the story. I stopped once and while to emphasize something in the story, and the kids volunteered their own comments making them participants in my reading.

When I finished, a few of the children asked questions but it wasn’t until Ms. Jacobson made a couple of brilliant suggestions that immediately inspired many of the children to raise their hands. After a spirited session, I thanked them all before departing. Needless to say I left on a high. Can you think of a better way to start a day?


I had just finished talking to 7th and 8th grade students at Shadow Hills Middle School in Palmdale, CA, and was driving home. I passed Cactus Middle School and decided to introduce myself to the band director, Garson Olivieri.

When I walked in he looked up in surprise and stopped the band from playing. He introduced me like I was a world-wild celebrity, citing my background as a former professional trombonist, and my many years spent in the Palmdale School District as a band director.

The well-balanced beginning band consisted mostly of seventh graders who had only been playing for about two months with school instruments. As I walked in I realized immediately this was a well-trained band with an equally good young director.

His approach to teaching band was similar to mine, with high intensity, but with patience. He asked if I would critique the group while they played a few exercises for me from a very good beginning band method book. Of course I obliged.

My method was to walk around, observe and listen, as the young musicians played their respective parts. I was truly pleased with all sections of the band. They were doing new material so I got a good idea how they were really progressing.

When they finished playing I spoke to the trumpet and trombone sections, explaining carefully how they could improve their playing. I also made comments to the clarinets and percussion. The sole tuba player who had only been playing for a couple of weeks added greatly to the ensemble.

The total maturity of the band with an open sound truly left me with a lasting impression. I’m looking forward to hearing both this group and Mr. Olivieri’s advanced band during their spring concert.


I didn’t know what to expect this morning when I entered Kathy Tokarz Leon’s 7th grade class at Shadow Hills Intermediate School in Palmdale CA at 7:00 AM. She had invited me to talk to her class about my experiences as a big band and jazz musician, a subject close to my heart. She had bought my book, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era,” and thought that would be an interesting topic to discuss with her students. Of course at their age they had heard very little jazz if any, but knew every present day pop star in existence.

As the kids strolled into class half asleep, I realized it wouldn’t be too difficult and that I would talk off the cuff. I had a general idea what I would say. But to my surprise an 8th grade teacher walked in and began setting up chairs before the class began. In came a larger class of kids ready to take me on as to “Who is this guy” attitude in their eyes.

I had seen posts on the wall at the front desk of the school office that said, “by law, NO PROFANITY ALLOWED IN SCHOOL.” There was also another sign that read, “NO WEAPONS ALLOWED ON SCHOOL GROUNDS.” There was a large banner near the ceiling that said, “WE WELCOME YOUR IMAGINATION.” So I opened my talk by saying, “I was given a pat down as I entered the school, then was told I couldn’t use any profanity, and that was half of my talk to you. You have a big banner outside the office that says, ‘We Welcome Your Imagination,’ but no one was there to welcome me. But the scary part was that I felt totally defenseless when they took away my AK-47.” That brought on some snickers and smiles from the students, and few laughs from the adults in the back. I knew I’d have no trouble with the rest of my soliloquies.

I started the talk about my mother and father’s background and what they went through before coming to our country, or “This beloved country,” as my father would say. This all led up to my family, being the seventh of seven children and how my mother and father were too tired to pay much attention to me, especially my school work. I told them the story how I was pulled out of a study hall when I was in ninth grade by the principal, who introduced me to the new band director. The director, Mr. Jacobs, gave me a baritone horn to play and my life took a new turn. To go to band or my individual music lessons in school, I first had to do my school work, a rarity for me, and then the teachers would let me go. That was the beginning of me taking an interest in learning again after having been turned off on education a few years earlier. That was one of the many salvations that I had during the course of my life. As I’ve said, I felt there was always an angel with me directing the course of every major event of my life, and it hasn’t ended.

The kids who were a little noisy when they came into the class, sat there enthralled during my entire discourse. There wasn’t a single interruption.


About six months ago I decided to buy an iPad. My son, David, downloaded many apps that I found useful in my work as a writer and other projects I’d been working on.

I loved my new toy. While I took rests from playing my chromatic harp—which were many, I’d open the iPad and see what was going in the FB world or what emails had come in. It was great laying in my recliner practicing the harmonica and playing with the iPad, the best of both worlds.

But my idyllic world of indolence came tumbling down when I discovered to my dismay that the new iPad wouldn’t take a charge. After seeing the 20% power hadn’t gone up to a 100%, I again charged it…and nothing! I immediately scampered over to Best Buy where the Geek Squad neglected to test it and took my word the machine no longer worked. The repairman referred me to another line where I had to return the iPad and get a new one. Luckily, I had purchased a warranty for a year and it wouldn’t cost me a cent. The sales girl wildly ran throughout the store trying to find my expensive model as the line behind me grew to great lengths. To my relief she finally returned after about 20 minutes, as the looks from those waiting behind me were getting more vicious. “Sorry,” the girl nonchalantly said, “we’re out of that model. We won’t get an order in for three weeks.” I knew she was wrong so I told her I would wait for it to come in. Two days later I received an email telling me to pick it up at the store.

I had no trouble setting it up as I had had previous experience. When my son came home this past weekend, he again downloaded the apps plus new ones. He had also bought new cell phones for the both of us as I was going to replace my old dinosaur. I had time left on the old one but it needed recharging, but wouldn’t charge. David asked if that was the same outlet I had tried to recharge the old iPad. I answered it was. He then asked if there was a wall switch to that particular plug in the living room. I had to think for a moment, and then remembered there might be one behind the TV in the large wall unit. A couple of days before the iPad went dead, a Direct TV installer had been working behind the TV. Sure enough, I found a wall switch behind the TV and realized the installer had inadvertently switched it off. We had never used a lamp with that switch.

My son and I looked at each other realizing there had been nothing wrong with the iPad I had returned to Best Buy. Someone was going to be pretty happy with an almost new iPad for a low price.


A couple of weeks ago my business partner, Mario Grossi and I, attended the NAMM convention at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. Mario, a professional drummer, and I, are in the business of renting and selling new and used band and stringed instruments to schoolchildren, who are entering the school instrumental programs.

Attending the conference was like being at an extravaganza opening of a new casino-hotel in Las Vegas. It was incredible, with hundreds of companies displaying their wares. Dozens of stars were at individual company exhibits, either performing or helping sell those brands. There were musicians from every genre of music: jazz, rock, country, and some I wasn’t too sure what they were, especially from Asian countries.

We had planned on meeting our good friends, professional trombonist, John Ley, and his singer-wife, Beverly Jenson. We visited many of the displays together until we met two of my former big band members, woodwind artist, John Burcher, and classical-jazz guitarist Bob Ormsby, also known as Bobby “O.” A few years back, Bobby was in the first graduating class at Cal Arts in Valencia, CA. I had helped him to get a full scholarship through my friend, singer Vickie Carr, who had recently been appointed a trustee at the conservatory.

The entire experience was wonderful and an eye-opener, but the most exciting thing was the fabulous pizza they served at lunch!


Shortly before the birth of Christ, an angel appeared before a handicapped shepherd boy named Luke, who was told to collect old and damaged oil lamps. This request presented problems with Luke’s friends, townspeople, and was also of concern to his parents. On Christmas Eve he followed a bright star directed towards a stable in Bethlehem, where the reason for the oil lamps is revealed to him. [Read more...]



November 4, 2010 by Felix Mayerhofer

After some good advice about two and a half years ago from Susan Christiansen, a composer with Disney, my wife, Shirley, our son, David, and I decided to promote my children’s stories and my published books. As David began creating and building a website for my stories, Shirley and I edited each of my 38 stories for about the fifth time to improve them, find typos and update them. As David neared completion of the site, he suggested I hire a narrator to record eight or ten of my stories. He also said that children love to hear the authors recite their stories, so I should record two or three.

I began practicing for about six weeks with a small mic on my iMac and I was terrible. My wife bought me a professional mic and interface for Christmas, so now I knew there was no turning back and had to record a story or two. I finally emailed the first recording to David and he said to try again because of a variety of reasons, I was still terrible. After a couple of more weeks I sent the story again and he returned it. I was not one to give up, so I continued practicing and again sent it to him. His answer was, “Fantastic!” About two weeks later I sent another, and I got the same positive answer. After sending a third with the same results, David, “Dad, I don’t think you need to hire a narrator, you can do them yourself.”

Naturally with practice I was getting better, and after I completed the first ten, I did ten more. Not being content my new goal was to do the last 18. The whole process took about 10 months of daily work…it was rough but inspiring. I used GarageBand to record them on my Mac.

David downloaded as many into my website as he could because he was busy himself. Every story had a beautiful cover illustrated by Disney-Spielberg illustrator John MacFarlane, with whom I had collaborated on my four published children’s books.

A short while later Shirley broke the femur bone of her leg in two places on Christmas morning. She spent seven weeks in a convalescent hospital where I spent every day with her.

My writing had come to a halt. I had begun a novel but stopped after the accident, my creative juices stopped working. After seven weeks she came home and I wrote a Nativity story that I had created and completed in my mind before her accident. Even though she was in terrible pain she wanted to edit it for me as she had done with all 37 before that. Her insight was invaluable; a word here, or a slight change of a sentence and my stories were ready for production.

Shirley died a few months later and I no longer had the desire to write. I realized I had written all my stories for her; I loved hearing her praise that was sincere. When something was not good or needed improvement she told me. Of course I was slightly annoyed over her critique and didn’t agree with her, but after a good night’s sleep and a review of her corrections the following morning made me realize she was right…she was always right.

A few months later I felt I needed something to stop me from thinking of Shirley, so I pulled out my old trombone. For three months I tried playing it for hours every day. Just having that piece of brass, my old friend in my hands again, felt wonderful. But the area surrounding my lip had been so badly damaged 50 years earlier, it wouldn’t respond, so I sadly placed it back in its case. I had to do something, and for some strange reason I decided to buy a chromatic harmonica (harp) with a lever. I haven’t the slightest idea why I chose that instrument, but it was a wise decision. Right from the beginning the harp had many built-in obstacles that I never realized existed even with the best ones. This was going to be a true challenge. The instrument with three octaves is incredibly difficult to play well. After having played it for a few months, I now have more respect for the great players. I read up as much as possible about the instrument and now have a lot more knowledge about it. I’m learning to overcome the built-in obstacles one at a time after many hours of practice. I talk to Shirley as I’m practicing to get her opinion as I did during my professional years playing trombone, while she sat a few feet away reading, knitting, or working in the kitchen in our studio apartment. She was my biggest fan.

Six months have gone by with progress going slowly but with definite improvement. I should be a pretty good player in a couple of years. I’ll keep you informed of my progress.

I find the instrument more fascinating by the day.


Who is the true leader of the orchestra? We all think it’s the conductor. But the instruments of the orchestra know the true fact…it’s the baton! For the first time it will be given the credit it so well deserves in this story in rhyme you are about to read. Woody, the baton, mysteriously disappears and the conductor is absolutely helpless without it. Will it be found in time for the concert, and if it is, what will be the outcome? [Read more...]


Seated in a glittering chair was the Divine One waiting to give the signal to His representative, the Archangel Gabriel, whose angelic group would make an announcement of gigantic importance. To attract the attention of the people on Earth, the world would be exposed to thunder and lightning with torrential rain, whipping winds, rolling waves, and trembling grounds. The inhabitants of the world would have a one-time opportunity to get a glimpse what heaven was like. An orchestra of angels would present this musical drama, using various instruments to influence all humanity and animals of the world, including sea-life. Each instrument of the orchestra would convey to the world’s inhabitants the ecstasies of Heaven, giving them a preview of what life would be like in God’s domain. [Read more...]