LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Brian Lee

Position: Orchestra / Band / Music Teacher
School: Allderdice High School
School District: Pittsburgh Public Schools
City, State: Pittsburgh, PA

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Brian Lee was nominated by a former student, Marc Hochhauser.

"Mr. Lee is perhaps the greatest educator I've ever learned from and worked with in my entire life (which says a lot, as I am a teacher myself)," said Hochhauser. "I was Brian's student in high school and a part of his first four-full-year class.  Although I am not currently in the position, I also returned to Allderdice for a year and a half as a substitute teacher and frequently covered for/worked with Brian.  When I think about the qualities that Brian demonstrates, I become overwhelmed with where to begin."

First and foremost, Mr. Lee is a brilliant musician. He has a true love and appreciation for what he teaches that rubs off on his students.

"Every Friday morning, I listen to a song by Jaco Pistorius that we played every Spring concert; I never would have even known that song without Brian, much less enjoyed it as much as I do," said Hochhauser. "I almost gave up saxophone in high school, but after one week of band, I knew I'd be playing through graduation day (which we did...we played pomp and circumstance during our own graduation because we would have rather sat with our favorite teacher than our classmates)."

"If you told me I'd take first period Music Theory my senior year, I would have called you insane, but sure enough, Brian's energy and passion led me to that decision independently.  I've even chaperoned marching band trips with Brian; this was unpaid, but I did so because I wanted to give back to the program that gave me so much in high school.  That program was established and maintained by Brian."

Mr. Lee also cares for his students and makes a connection with each and every one of them.  Next year is Hochhauser's tenth high school reunion, and he is still speaking with Mr. Lee at least once a week. He has always been able to keep a completely professional and moral relationship with his students that feels as close as any you'd have with a lifelong friend.

"As a colleague, Brian is a true professional, and was always respectful of my needs and my time," said Hochhauser. "He has been a cherished and respected part of the Allderdice staff for his entire tenure.  He takes the inch that Pittsburgh Public Schools can afford to give him and expands it to many, many miles worth of enjoyable education.  Brian Lee is a once-in-a-generation talent that deserves every bit of recognition possilbe.  I cannot speak highly enough of the lasting, real-life effect that he has on his students."



Comments (17)


Scott Kiesling Posted 9 months ago

I'm a parent of one of Mr. Lee's current students. Charlie is in band, music theory, and marching band. Mr. Lee has allowed and encouraged Charlie to grow as a musician and a person, maintaining an atmosphere of excellence and respect, and the kind of high expectations that come from having faith that his students are excellent musicians. Mr. Lee has been central to Charlie's success at Allderdice and in music more generally.

Amy Brazill Posted 9 months ago

Mr. Lee brings out and nurtures Allderdice students' talents. His support of the musical theatre productions has allowed this program to grow.

Holly Kay Posted 11 months ago

Mr. Lee was my daughter Emily's music teacher and band director during her four years at Allderdice. Emily died in the summer of 2014, but I'm certain she would want to be part of this nomination process. I hope to do that for her. I can't speak to her day to day interactions with Mr. Lee, but I know he played an integral and valuable role in her life. He gave her perhaps the greatest gift of all - a place to belong. His classroom acted as her sanctuary. In the busy and often anonymous environment of a large high school, it was a space where she was seen and recognized as being special. A place where she mattered. Mr. Lee recognized her talent and provided her the safe opportunity and the skills to hone it. From band trips, to concerts, to their tradition of playing the Penguins fight song before every playoff game, Mr. Lee was a central figure in the best of Emily's high school memories. Emily liked to have fun. She liked to laugh. There was plenty of that in Mr. Lee's class, but he also gave her and her fellow band members an opportunity to build something truly great from the ground up. When he arrived at Allderdice, Mr. Lee was handed a down and out music program and recruited a ragtag group of mostly freshmen and performed a miracle. He instilled a sense of purpose and excitement in at times cynical high school students and together they built a top notch music program that continues to be a source of pride for our community. Now I'll speak to my experiences with Mr. Lee. Shortly after Emily died, I was considering ways to honor her memory. I immediately thought of the positive impact that Mr. Lee and music education had on her life. I reached out to Brian to discuss ways that I might do this. He met with me and compassionately listened and advised me of the different paths I could take. To this day, he makes sure Emily knows she mattered by attending annual remembrances we have for her. It's called the Life Changer award. He changed Emily's life for the better and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Joe Boninger Posted 11 months ago

Brian Lee was my music teacher and marching band director from 9th to 12th grade. I have never had a teacher more hardworking or passionate than him. Mr. Lee goes above and beyond with everything he does. As the marching band director, he single-handedly arranges all of its music, putting in hours over the summer to transcribe songs by ear and arrange them specifically for that year’s ensemble. He also plans yearly trips for the band, finding ways to accommodate everyone who wants to come, on a minimal budget, seemingly by magic. Mr. Lee pays attention to the needs of each of his students—he gave me opportunities to improve my musicianship and leadership skills, and I knew he cared about me as an individual. Playing in the marching band was one of my most valuable and my most fun high school experiences, and Mr. Lee’s direction made that happen. As the band and orchestra teacher, Mr. Lee is no different. His job requires him to accommodate students of all skill levels, playing a band’s worth of instruments (plus a couple bassists and guitarists), with a limited number of resources, in a single classroom. So he does. Every semester, with his guidance, we put on a concert for the school that I felt proud of. All of this leaves aside the many other mays Mr. Lee contributes to the Pittsburgh community—as the director of the pit in the local JCC high school musical, as a musician for events at local colleges, as a devoted Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fan, and so much more. To everything he does, he brings an unfailing enthusiasm and sense of humor that make everyone around him feel happier. I couldn’t recommend him more for this award.

David Stein Posted 11 months ago

What can I say about Mr. Lee? It’s been over ten years since I was in his class – his first year teaching was my sophomore year at Allderdice – though I clearly recall as I watched a struggling music program reignite with enthusiasm. I watched my freshman year as beginning musicians were discouraged from a challenging marching band. One year later I saw novice musicians not only openly welcomed, but enthusiastically encouraged to join. The difference between those two years was Mr. Lee. He introduced popular music alongside classical, and taught with enthusiasm for his art. Though Mr. Lee wasn’t only a conductor. If a student was struggling, he was quick to pick up any instrument in the room for tailored instruction. I also remember after class, as we would name songs for him to play effortlessly on his piano, on the spot. He’s an expert who cared about our growth, not just as musicians, but as people. As those before me have already attested, his brilliance did not end at the music stand, as Lee was always quick to help with any of our academic struggles, as well. I also recall my senior year when our Allderdice Musical was awarded Best All-Student Orchestra. Needless to say, this was under the direction of Brian Lee, as his devotion often took him outside of the classroom and into the musical community of Pittsburgh. Mr. Lee was a teacher we were always glad to see, and a class we were always enthusiastic to attend. Through music, he provided a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere – no simple task when you’re talking about high-schoolers performing in front of their peers every day. Mr. Lee had a friendly and easygoing approach, but always took his job seriously. It was a privilege to have him as a teacher, as he was one who wanted to be in the classroom. Through music he inspired students to cultivate their own talents. I don’t know of a single student that didn’t show improvement under Lee’s guidance. Mr. Lee exemplifies the role, not just of music teacher, but of any educator you’d be lucky enough to learn from, and I absolutely support his nomination for LifeChanger of the Year award. Ten years later and I currently work as a bridge engineer, but I still have every sheet of music I ever played with Mr. Lee, and it’s never too long before I break out my Trumpet and oil up my keys again.

Mia Destfino Posted 11 months ago

Mr. Lee is one of the most significant and important people I have ever met. As a middle schooler I was in awe of the Allderdice marching band. Upon starting high school I quickly found that Mr. Lee would help facilitate and encourage my musical and educational interests. I can easily say that my favorite activities and classes included music and the challenges I faced and overcame throughout my high school career. In addition to the amazing opportunities I was presented, such as playing for the mayor and performing in parades,I was able to gain confidence and skill while making music and experiences that I will keep with me forever. I could never thank Mr. Lee enough for the support and experiences he instilled in me. His patience and respect for his students and community is what makes him stand out above the rest for me.

Lindsey Milisits Posted 11 months ago

Thinking back to my high school experience, it is easy to identify one teacher that had the greatest lasting impact, and that is Mr. Brian Lee. I find it difficult to identify any other teacher that had the unique ability to not only educate and inspire students to want to learn, but also connect with students and relate to them. Mr. Lee is an extremely talented musician and educator. He leads a classroom that inspires students of all musical levels to try their best and challenge themselves. He also devotes countless hours outside of the classroom by engaging students in extracurricular band activities. I am proud to have been a part of a band that is always recognized by the city for its incredible talent and musical education program, solely due to the dedication of Mr. Lee. Beyond the classroom and high school experience, Mr. Lee stays in contact with his students. He stays connected with students as they advance through college and their careers. I can't think of anyone more deserving than Brian Lee for the lifechanger of the year award.

Lilly Freedman Posted 11 months ago

Mr.Lee was a special teacher to everyone who stepped foot in his classroom. His attitute of quiet intrigue would shift to playful banter as he got to know each student. Not only was this a successful strategy when it came to engaging individual students, the result was a musical community. Each student had their instrument, their role to play, & Mr. Lee made sure each of those roles were valued. He brought creativity and wit to the classroom in a way that made the space one of both learning and play. Clearly, he’s a teacher we all remember and Pittsburgh Public is insanely lucky to have him.

George Edwards Posted 11 months ago

Before Brian came to Allderdice to teach during my sophomore year of high school in 2005 I was planning to quit marching band. I was no longer interested in playing. I heard that we were getting a new band director and I stuck around. I was eager to see what this new guy was going to do. I remember seeing Brian for the first time. I believed that he had a plan for us, I just didn't know what that plan was. I can say that Junior year was rough for the marching band but we believed in what this younger, fresh faced teacher was telling us. We had 17 people total in marching band, but he told us that we needed to work even harder, play proud and play out. That resonates with me even today. I wasn't a scholar in school, not by a long shot. I've always shared with Brian that I loved music so much that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I wanted to teach music, and lead a marching band. By senior year we had a great marching band and a good music program overall. Brian had learned some of the essentials that made band fun. He introduced popular music into the marching band, and the crowds at halftime cheered for us instead of booing. Upon graduating high school in June of 2007 I came back to help the Drumline for band camp. That was August of 2007 and I've been the Percussion Instructor and Arranger for the Marching Band ever since. He saw something in me that I didn't even see. He believed in this black kid from the East End. He changed my life. I don't know what I would've done if I had actually quit marching band. Brian has positively impacted so many other lives too. Brian is a selfless person. He's done more for me than you could possibly imagine without even blinking. He taught me not to give up on what I want to do. He taught me how to become the person that I am today. He's more than a lifechanger of the year, he is my all time life changer.

Chareeni Kurukulasuriya Posted 11 months ago

Brian Lee was my teacher throughout my 4 years of high school at Pittsburgh Allderdice and certainly one of the most influential and admired by students at our high school. Personally, I will always appreciate Mr. Lee for reigniting my passion for the violin, an interest that had waned in middle school, but thanks to the environment of Mr. Lee’s orchestra class, I ended up staying with it for the four years of high school. I even became more involved in other musical extra-curriculars he led: the pit for the school musical and the local Jewish Community Center’s musical, providing the live processional music at each Allderdice commencement ceremony, or the student string quartet that performed at Pittsburgh Public Schools events. That was the thing about Mr. Lee, his charisma and genuine passion for these projects inspired students and brought us together for these amazing creative opportunities. The collaborative environment he fostered in his classes and extracurriculars engaged every member of the class, and he pushed us to expand our musical boundaries, arranging the music himself for the group to play anything ranging from pop and modern hits to the classical staples. He would arrange a senior medley to be performed at the end of every year, featuring a solo for each senior that was meaningful to them and reflected their personal musical taste. He worked so tirelessly to meet the needs of every class and project he took on, and his talent and love for teaching was always so clear to anyone who saw him work. His lasting impact on his students was always seen each year in the winter concerts, when he invited alumni to join in on the tradition of playing in the final number, and there would always be a crowd of former students with their instruments ready, joining the stage. Mr. Lee’s music room was always a safe haven for so many students because we could tell how much he truly cared about each one of us, no easy feat considering how crowded the music elective classes could be. Students always felt comfortable going to Mr. Lee to discuss issues they might be having in school, get advice about college or career plans, or just vent their frustrations during free periods. And he always made time for his students, as busy as he was running so many programs and classes in the music department. It was amazing how Mr. Lee took the time to engage with every one of his students, going beyond just the scope of his class to know what was going on in our lives, really investing the time to know us and then help us however he could. Mr. Lee is certainly someone who has been and continues to be a positive influence on so many students’ lives, someone truly deserving of recognition as a lifechanger.

Ellie Frye Posted 11 months ago

Mr. Lee was my music teacher from 9-12th grade, but much more than that! He was the teacher I would go to during a rough day, he was my encouragement to audition for orchestras, he was my motivation to continue playing violin long after graduating from Allderdice. His dedication to his students in and out of the classroom is unparalleled, and his seemingly endless energy and heart deserve recognition. He is the best teacher I ever had and is emblematic of everything this award represents - leadership, community service, dedication to students, and investment in schools. I wholeheartedly support his nomination

Lauren Milisits Posted 11 months ago

Brian Lee is a teacher whom I am fortunate enough to still have a relationship with to this day, nearly 10 years after graduating from Allderdice. One distinct memory from band class was Mr. Lee's ragtime piano improv songs, where he made up tunes about what happened during that day, with his students, or life in general. I will never forget how easily these songs engaged and excited the entire class, his witty lyrics made us laugh, the showtime music excited us, but his creativity and ability to make these songs up on the spot impressed me most. Like Marc, I was also a member of his first four-full-years class - we entered Mr. Lee's classroom as freshman, and Mr. Lee watched us walk across the stage as graduating seniors. In our final concert performance, Mr. Lee wrote a "Senior Song", individual solos for each graduating senior, but a song that expressed his feelings for us, having watched us grow over four years. When I attended a year-end concert a few years ago, he was still continuing to write his graduating seniors a "Senior Song" ... a constant reminder of his passion for teaching and his dedication and commitment to his students over the years. Brian Lee has been the most memorable teacher from my time in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and one whom I am grateful to have known for the last 13 years. He truly cares about each and every person who enters his classroom, even after they have long left the school.

Steven Kim Posted 11 months ago

Mr. Lee was, and still is, my favorite teacher. Throughout my years in high school, he has been an incredible role model and educator. His passion for teaching, combined with his fun personality, reaches out to his students in ways you may only think were possible in movies. I started off with only an orchestra class my freshman year, and by my senior year I was heavily involved in the music program at Allderdice with: Orchestra, Band, Marching Band and the Musical Pit. Never in my life has a teacher inspired and nurtured a passion for music and learning like Mr. Lee. He represents all the aspects of a great teacher and always aims to go above and beyond expectations. Mr. Lee teaches more than music. Every student he has had knew they could turn to him for the many troubles a high school youth may face--whether that may be advice on their future, help with homework (particularly math) or just a word of encouragement. He has garnered the deep respect of every student he has ever had. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had such an educator that could make a lasting impact in my life, and am always grateful for the experiences and wisdom I received. He truly is a Lifechanger.

David Stack Posted 11 months ago

Brian Lee is a highly skilled educator, a talented musician, and (above all) an extremely caring and generous role model for all who come through his classroom or participate in the extracurricular activities he leads. In a school district that unfortunately passes many music students from grade to grade with essentially no ability to play their instrument, I was no exception. I entered ninth grade having “played” the trombone for five years, but had no ability to read sheet music or play even marginally difficult tunes. Within weeks of participating in Mr. Lee’s class and band program, I had progressed more than I had in the previous five years. By the end of four years with Mr. Lee I was able to read music and play fairly complex songs (including my crowning achievement – the theme song from “The Angry Beavers” – which Mr. Lee transcribed for me). It is no secret why I progressed so much more under Lee’s tutelage than I had previously. He set basic standards for all students and helped each of us meet those standards. More importantly, Mr. Lee serves as an excellent role model for the many students he interacts with each year. He is extremely generous with his time, serving as the head of the marching band, orchestra, musical “pit” and I’m sure several other things I can’t think of. He is strict when necessary, but never unkind. He has an infectious deadpan sense of humor, and facilitates a fun and inclusive atmosphere in a school that has many socioeconomic divisions. I am sure that Mr. Lee has changed the lives of many he has taught, myself included.

Eve Swearingen Posted 11 months ago

I graduated from high school six years ago, and if there's one teacher I'll remember for the rest of my life, it will be Brian Lee. It's very clear to me now, as an adult, why it was so easy for the students to care about their work--because it was so very clear that Mr. Lee cared about us. His room was a refuge for kids from every walk of life, and especially for kids like me, who felt that they didn't have a place anywhere else. When the district was making cuts to music staff based on seniority alone, parents, students, and alumni filled a school board meeting and spoke for three hours (though I know just based on attendance that we could have gone all night) because he touched all of our lives in such a deep way that we couldn't imagine the district without him, and because he is such a wonderful educator that he deserved to be there. For so many students, Mr. Lee was and is a beacon of safety, a model of what a respectful and appropriate relationship between a teacher and a student should look like, and a vital piece of a support network. I couldn't agree with Mr. Hochhauser more--if there is anyone who deserves to be recognized by a platform such as this, it is Mr. Lee.

Dennis Allan Posted 11 months ago

Brian cares deeply for his students. Not only does he want them to grow as musicians, but he wants to see them develop as people. And, in order for his students to develop as people Brian knows it's important to create a safe space, where all of his students, no matter who they may be are seen and valued just as they are, for who they are. And because Brian is so diligent in creating this type of environment for his students they're able to be the most honest and authentic version of themselves. In this one way, Brian is creating a space where, I believe, student's lives can be deeply impacted in a positive manner.

Ashwin Iyengar Posted 11 months ago

Brian Lee is one of the best teachers I've ever had (certainly the best music teacher). He has the unique gift of being able to do three things simultaneously: (1) actually get all of his students to participate and learn something, (2) make students feel like they can relate to him and communicate freely with him, and (3) inspire people with little to no musical background to pick up an instrument and soon play well enough to perform in front of a live audience. He is passionate about music and musical performance in all of its guises, and it's safe to say that without him, the music program at Allderdice wouldn't be a fraction of what it is now. He ran the orchestra, concert band, and musical orchestra pits, and literally any other musical activity the school ran. And in addition to this, he ran the marching band, which (as anyone who has been in a marching band can tell you) is a huge commitment for the students, but an even more exhausting commitment for the director, who has to write the musical medleys, arrange the movements, schedule the dozens of practices/events, and get everyone under control and actually deliver on the performance. Brian tackles this elegantly and gracefully year after year, and the band and its participants are better for it. He is an inspiration to everyone he teaches, and is one of the most approachable and helpful teachers I've ever met. For this reason, I think he deserves this award.