Update: Memorial services for John King will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 29, at Capital High School Auditorium, 8055 W. Goddard Road, Boise.
As a band and orchestra director at Capital High and other Boise schools, John King taught his students about music, how to march on the field and how to play classical masterworks. But his true lessons were about much more, his students say.
They were about dedication, diligence, attention to detail and the importance of teamwork. Those lessons left an impression on his students that lasted long beyond their school days.
“He was my favorite teacher I ever, ever had,” says Virginia Treat, who played saxophone and French horn in his Capital High bands from 1989 to 1992. “He was very inspirational and dedicated. He always pushed us hard to do the best we could. He made an impact on my whole life.”
King, 70, died Monday from complications after heart surgery at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
“He was an incredible human being and husband,” says his wife, Heather King. A former student, the two reconnected at a band reunion a few years ago. They married in March.
As news of King’s death spread, a huge outpouring of sympathy and sharing of treasured memories happened on the “I marched Capital High Golden Eagle Marching Unit” Facebook page.
“There are a handful of teachers who made a huge difference in my life, and gave me the skills and the drive to go far beyond what might otherwise be expected of me,” posted Robert Haynes-Peterson.
“I feel so blessed to have been a student of John King’s,” wrote Katherine Dougherty. “Grateful that he cared so much and set such standards, challenged us to work as a team and dream!”
Some of his students went on to become professional musicians, including Curtis Stigers, an internationally known jazz artist. The 1983 Capital graduate played saxophone and was the marching band drum major his senior year.
“He was a really amazing band director,” Stigers says. “He had us play stuff that was so far superior and more difficult technically than any band we competed against. They were marching to pop songs; we were doing Beethoven’s Ninth.”
King had a reputation as a strict task master who could explode during a rehearsal when things weren’t going well.
“He would get really angry,” Stigers says. “Then one time he blew up and then I saw him turn around, and he had a little smile on his face. I guess that’s how he got things done. He was really a good actor.”
King’s dedication to his job and his students were unparalleled, says Lea Bateman-King, his first wife and close friend. During their 34-year marriage, she taught music at Hillside Junior High and several Boise elementary schools.
“He held himself to such high standards that he was able to ask that of the kids,” Bateman-King says. “From the day school was out in June, he spent hours preparing over the summer for the next season.”
During the Capital years, King taught both marching, symphonic band and orchestra, often writing the orchestrations and marching drills himself. If he ever bought a pre-done piece, he would end up revising it, she says.
King was tireless, says Phil Hartman, who student taught under King in spring 1981 and fall 1982 before Hartman became the band director at Centennial High School.
“And all the work was always for the betterment of the musical opportunities for his students. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with him,” Hartman says. “I was with him for just nine weeks, but I learned a tremendous amount. He became my friend and mentor, and any success I enjoyed as a teacher I credit to John King.”
King grew up in Boise. He played trombone, and by ninth grade he was performing with the newly minted Boise Philharmonic under Jacques Brourman. He got his degree in music and education at Wichita State University in Kansas, and then returned to Boise in 1971 to teach. He started at North Junior High, then taught a year at West before landing at Capital in 1976. There, his band won championship after championship, year after year, until he left in 1992. He then taught at South Junior High, then Les Bois, and several elementary schools before he officially retired from Boise School District in 2002.
After retiring, he started a business collecting court judgments for people, but kept a connection to music. He taught at Bishop Kelly High School, then at Anser Charter School. He also directed the all-campus band at Boise State University and worked with the community Treasure Valley Concert Band.
He continued to conduct the orchestra for Boise Music Week most years. In 2013, King was at the podium for the Music Week presentation of “South Pacific.” Bateman-King, a violinist, their daughter Brenna King-Shirer, a violist, and son Aaron King, a cellist, all were in the pit.
The outpouring of affection on Facebook has stunned King’s family.
“It’s mind boggling the messages we’ve all been seeing,” Lea Bateman-King says. “It’s overwhelming, but that’s why teachers are teachers. It keeps you going to know you’ve made a difference.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to the Mel Shelton Scholarship for Concert Band at Boise State University. Shelton taught King at Boise High and was King’s mentor.
To make a donation, contact the Boise State University Foundation at 208-426-3276, mail a check to 2225 University Drive, Boise, ID 83706 (make sure to put the code AS051 on your check), or go online to Giving.BoiseState.edu.
Some student memories of John King
Today, the band teacher was late to school so I covered for him. I directed the band as they played Battlesong and I started to cry.
John King, you were such an influence in my life. I was first and foremost a theatre kid and then a drill team kid whose friends were all in the band ...
I ate lunch in the band room and hung out in your office. I had a tough childhood and you always encouraged me to be the best I could be. I would play the piano in your band room and you would tell me I was great and that I always played with such feeling. When I babysat your kids, as you and your wife were leaving the house, you told your kids that I had to play the piano for them because I played with such feeling. You finally convinced me my Senior year of High School to join band again and I played for you my last semester. You were the voice of reason in my dysfunctional world.
You have left this life to direct the Angels. I can hear you from above “Off The Line!” Rest well my friend and know you have changed forever my life and the lives of countless others.
He was the most important teacher I had in high school. I was not a great musician but after making the marching band my sophomore year (you had to try out) I was a dedicated band geek. Marching band, pep band, concert band…each with something different to learn..Mr. King..as we all called him…was at the center. Extra sectionals (individual groups of instruments to practice alone…before or after school), marching band practice (after school and weeks before school started) and pep band practice (before school), were all led by Mr. King. He was always there. He wrote all our marching routines, he was at every game we played at and he brought in experts when we were having trouble…we watched game tapes, like the football team.
He expected dedication, hard work, and responsibility. Quite simply, he expected the best of high school students. He was tough, demanding, exacting, formidable and most of all caring. I came away from high school with all those values taught to me by the best. There has rarely been a time when I started a new job or a addressed a problem that I didn’t think of him and what I had learned.
A few years ago I was working on an issue campaign. We were speaking to any civic organization that would have us and we ended up at a small organization that Mr. King belonged to. At the end of the meeting the group sat around a table and everyone was to say what they were thankful for…I was able to tell my most significant high school teacher how much he meant to me and how thankful I was to have been his student. I am so glad I was given that chance.
· His bottom lip sticking out when he was seriously concentrating.
· The screaming argument we had about a quarter grade I felt was wrong…he didn’t change it.
· The plea we not leave 4 toilets in his yard the night before Band Competition hoping to mark the 4th year we would win.
· His smile when we completed a near perfect performance.
· The look on his face when we presented him with a tuxedo as our senior gift.
· How angry he was when I was late for practice before a performance.
· How proud I was when he told me I would be drum major and direct the concert band at graduation.
· And much, much more.
As he always said before a performance “give me goose bumps!” Every time I hear a piece of music that does just that…I think of him.