Music man blends passion and career |

Music man blends passion and career

by Susie Vasquez

Gardnerville resident Dan Ballard is one of those lucky few who was able to combine career and passion. His 25-year career as a music teacher took him from Bakersfield, Calif., to Bethel, Alaska, and after retirement, he created his own assembly program for students and community groups called “10,000 Years of Horn Blowing.”

The program features the evolution of horns, from simple animal horns to modern brass.

“Each instrument is introduced by a skit and the kids participate in the performance. They love that,” he said. “I’ll keep doing this as long as I can keep playing.”

Music is very important for kids, keeping them in music programs, off the streets and out of gangs. Music teaches discipline and the loss of these programs robs students of something they could have carried with them for the rest of their lives, he said.

“Music changes people,” Ballard said. “And the arts in any civilization have survived over time, more than anything else.”

Ballard is open and direct. He uses few words and doesn’t pull any punches.

He spent his youth in Culver City, Calif., playing the bugle with the Boy Scouts, taking up the trumpet in junior high and high school. He became interested in the French horn while attending Los Angeles City College.

He was in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1956 and spent much of that time in San Francisco, performing with the Sixth U.S. Army Band at the Presidio in San Francisco, he said.

“The band was pretty good back then,” he said.

His career included working with professionals like Sinclair Lott of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Philip Farkas of the Chicago Symphony. He also attended Naval Music School in Washington, D.C., where he studied horn with Leslie French.

He left the Army three months early to start school at the University of Redlands in southern California, where he earned a master’s degree in music and met his wife, Mariann.

“She played the viola and violin,” he said.

Mariann is one-quarter Alaskan native and Ballard taught music in Bethel for a few years to give her time with her family. When they weren’t living in Alaska, they visited the state to participate in the whale hunt, he said.

“Her grandfather jumped ship in Bethel and proceeded to have two wives and 14 children,” he said. “She probably has 150 cousins in Alaska.”

Ballard taught music in Adelanto, Calif., for 19 years and in that time, the marching band earned many awards, he said.

“No one else had a grade school marching band in San Bernardino County,” he said. “We didn’t have much competition.”

The couple moved to Douglas County in 2005, after retirement. They have three grown sons, Paul, Pat and Perry, one grandson, Robby, and a great-granddaughter, Stephanie.

Ballard continues his school assembly program and for fun, plays in Carson City’s Capitol City Community Band, he said.

n Susie Vasquez can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 211.