David Margison never graduated from high school, but now he teaches it.
The band director at Queensbury High School credits his old high school band teacher, David Bournazian, for getting him there.
“He would just support you to no end and make you feel so good about yourself that you couldn’t fail under his tutelage,” Margison said. “He was just that kind of a man.”
Bournazian, 86, affectionately known by his students as Mr. B, or simply B, died peacefully “on his own terms” early Thursday morning in his Albany home, said his son, George Bournazian, who was with him when he died. David Bournazian had spent the last three weeks in a hospital with a number of medical complications, but was determined to spend his last days at home, “and he did it,” his son said.
Bournazian’s career at Mohonasen High School spanned nearly 41 years. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, he started teaching in Pittsfield in 1953. When he came to Mohonasen in Rotterdam in 1964, he took what was then a small marching band program under his wing and brought it to national prominence before retiring in 2005. In 2009, district officials named the high school music wing after him.
Bournazian played saxophone and, during his adolescence, aspired to live a musician’s life. He joined the U.S. Army after World War II, was stationed in New Orleans and found himself heavily influenced by the Big Easy’s omnipresent jazz beats, he told The Daily Gazette when he was honored by the school district in 2009. When his Army service ended, he used the GI bill to start his education at Boston University. He left college to join composer Neal Hefti’s big band, but decided to return after living life on the road for a while.
In April 2014, Bournazian’s former students from multiple generations came together in Albany for one last concert under his direction.
“He taught the kids of the kids of the kids,” said Keith Bushey, who had the unenviable task of taking over for Bournazian when he retired in 2005 and “trying to fill his shoes.”
Bushey, who retired from teaching in 2010, started working with Bournazian in 1986 when Draper High School merged with Mohonasen.
He said Bournazian had a unique teaching style that might not fly today — that of a drill sergeant with a heart of gold.
“He’d like to scream, but they all knew he was just B screaming,” he said. “He was not a drill sergeant to the point where they didn’t respect him. They’d respect him, and love him.”
George Bournazian said being Mr. B’s son meant you had to play not one instrument, but a minimum of two. He played trumpet and string bass in school, and now, at 56, plays piano “for the fun of it.”
He said his father was consistent in his approach to teaching and how he raised him; his brother, Jacob; and his sister, Nadine, who died in November after a long illness.
“The very values and attributes that he brought to the band program is what was instilled here at home, and that was both due to my mom (the late Dorothy Bournazian) and my father: ‘Do the best you can,’ ” he said. “Dad used to say attitude is the key to success. All he was saying was we don’t necessarily always have to win all the time, but as long as you can say you did your best — don’t hang your head.”
The Mohonasen marching band didn’t always win the state title at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, even when it should have, he said, “but they didn’t hang their heads. They knew they had done their jobs.”
George Bournazian said his father’s message rang loud and clear with his students. As of 2 p.m. Thursday, he had received over 600 emails from those former students offering their condolences and expressing the same thing:
“They all got it,” he said. “Attitude was the key to success.”
Bournazian’s former student, Margison, said he was fortunate enough to have spent time with Bournazian on Tuesday before he died.
“We got talking about some of the stuff I did, and he always seemed to come up with the right things to say, and he says, ‘You know what, man? You gotta figure out who you don’t want to be so you can be who you want to be,’ and that was kind of like what he did with everybody.
“He never told you you were wrong. He’d let you make the mistake and let you figure out what was the right thing to do.”
Margison said Mr. B touched the lives of thousands of students throughout his career, but “I’m a little different.”
“I seem to be a story that he shared with a lot of kids after me,” he said.
In 1972, halfway through his senior year at Mohonasen, Margison decided to skip out on graduating and hitchhike his way to the West Coast. His friends, who were older, had graduated the previous year and were off enjoying concerts, both out west and at SPAC, and the only subject he was interested in was band, he explained.
Mr. B had everything to do with his love for band.
“There were nine of us in the school that were hippies, so everybody was always pointing the finger at us, except Mr. B,” he said. “He was from the ’50s jazz beatnik era, with his cool goatee, and he was not judgmental.”
After a year, Margison realized he had made a mistake and came home to his mom, dad and Mr. B, who allowed him to come back to Mohonasen as a post-graduate music student. Bournazian sent him to the guidance counselor with the idea, and before Margison could walk back to his office, the superintendent was on the phone.
Bournazian quietly handed the phone to his student and let him hear the superintendent say “what a bad person I was,” Margison recalled, “and then they finally got me out of here and now you want to bring him back?”
Then Bournazian stood up for his student before signing an agreement and “putting his job on the line for me,” Margison said.
“You got 1,500 kids who don’t want to be here, you got one kid that wants the education and you won’t give it to him? What kind of a person does that make you?” Margison recalled Mr. B telling the superintendent. “That stuck with me big-time.”
Margison would spend the next three months practicing tuba every day before successfully auditioning at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse. He would go on to graduate from there and earn an applied music degree from Temple University, before playing with the Caracas Philharmonic Orchestra in Venezuala for four years and then coming home, where he ran a chain of music stores and taught lessons.
It was around that time, in 1991, when he saw Bournazian at a party and his old teacher suggested he get his teaching certificate.
“He kicked me in the ass again, and I went and got my teaching credits, and I’ve been teaching ever since,” he said.
As a band teacher at Queensbury, Margison said he works every day to be like his old music teacher, Mr. B.
“If I can be a quarter, or half, the music teacher that he was, I’ll be extremely successful,” he said. “There are no more teachers more committed than he was. He was just a phenomenal man.”