A PLACE FOR MUSIC LOVERS; New Conservatory Plans Instruction, Band

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

When Jacksonville attorney E.T. Fernandez was a student at Wolfson High School in the early 1970s, his life revolved around the school band, for which he played trumpet.

"As far as the band was concerned, football was what happened before and after we played," he said.

He went off to college intending to study music. But Fernandez's father, a judge, had a different idea and his son yielded to that plan and became a lawyer.

But he never lost his love of the trumpet and longed for the chance to be part of a band again.

So when he heard that his old Wolfson band director, Richard Dickson, was starting a music conservatory in Jacksonville that would include a community band for musicians 50 and over, "it was like a gift out of a dream," Fernandez said.

During a long and varied music career, Dickson taught at Paxon and Wolfson high schools in Jacksonville, was an adjunct professor at the University of Florida while pursuing a doctorate there, ran a dinner theater outside Gainesville and, most recently, was executive director of the Amelia Arts Academy in Nassau County.

He left there last year intending to retire. But when retirement didn't take, Dickson came up with a new idea, to start the nonprofit Northeast Florida Music Conservatory, which will offer individual and group instruction to middle school, high school and adult students and will include a community band for adults 50 and over.

Beginning in May 2009, he spent more than a year searching for a location. Eventually he found a former mortgage office in a small office park off San Jose Boulevard just north of Mandarin Road. Now the space has been renovated; a staff of 23 faculty members, including Dickson, has signed up; and next weekend the conservatory will have an official opening, although some classes have already begun.

Philip Pan, concertmaster and principal violinist with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, has agreed to be part of the faculty. Although his schedule won't permit him to take any private students, Pan said he plans to conduct some classes and coach some ensembles.

"I support his vision," Pan said. "He is trying to do something that hasn't really existed until now. Not that other schools don't have good teachers. ... But there is a real need."

"I think there is a growing need for the fine arts in our community," said Don Reynolds, who played under Dickson at Paxon High School, then went on to a career as a music teacher and band director, most recently at West Nassau High.

While at West Nassau, Reynolds helped Dickson, who was running Amelia Arts Academy, start the New Horizons Band, a community band. …