As divers interred the ashes of fallen soldiers into the USS Arizona, Will Norris stood above water with his brethren and played the Navy hymn, a tribute to the attack on Pearl Harbor that happened 60 years previously.
As a longtime National Guardsman, and an even longer-time musician, this wasn’t just another gig for Norris.
“It’s one of those lifetime things that you can’t do as just a musician,” he said.
The honor to play at Pearl Harbor on the 60th anniversary in 2001 was one of the more significant events in a storied career as a musician, one that has spanned four decades. Now the curtains are coming to a close.
Norris, 60, who has 25 years experience teaching band and is the current band director at Kyrene Altadeña Middle School, will be retiring at the end of the school year.
“I’ve been real fortunate that I’ve been able to do things music-related, but also served my country and served the students,” he said.
“I have been able to impart what music has done for me to students as well as give back to the community.”
Norris’ impact can be felt in band rooms around the Phoenix-metro area. Last year he was named ASU Mentor Teacher of the Year because of how closely he works with college students aspiring to do what he is doing.
One of those band directors, almost 10 years into his own career, is Desert Vista’s Josh Thye. Thye was mentored by Norris before becoming band director at DV.
“I think what stands out first and foremost are how strong his values are and what he stands for as a husband and as a man, and even as a friend,” Thye said. “I appreciate how he has stood for excellence. He could have easily clocked in and clocked out and just gone through the necessary steps.”
When asked what he will do after his last day, when he walks through the halls of Altadeña for the last time, Norris said he plans to spend more time at his second home near Sedona with his wife. But it doesn’t mean that he will be retiring from music, as he has already been asked to judge band festivals by the Arizona Music Educators Association.
His teaching methods have inspired people like Thye and countless other music teachers and band directors, and will continue his legacy into the next generation.
“I tell the kids if you work hard at something and you believe in it, it will transfer to you and your success,” Norris said. “If they are willing to put in the work, they can succeed at it. What you need is perseverance and good old-fashion hard work.”
The Desert Vista Wind Ensemble and Altadeña Eighth Grade Band will perform a combined concert at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25 in Desert Vista’s Dr. Joe McDonald Auditorium, 16440 S. 32nd St. The public is invited to attend.
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