By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Musicians vocalize their love for teacher

Dana Libonati, his wife and family sit front and center at the Concert for Dana.  You re my biggest fan,  singer Aimee Palacios told him during the event; other musicians could have said the same thing.
Dana Libonati, his wife and family sit front and center at the Concert for Dana. "You're my biggest fan," singer Aimee Palacios told him during the event; other musicians could have said the same thing.
Dana Libonati and the audience listen to a number by Bethany Blanchard, who took her acoustic bass up to the balcony for her solo.
Dana Libonati and the audience listen to a number by Bethany Blanchard, who took her acoustic bass up to the balcony for her solo.

“This one’s for you, Dana,” she said.

In fact, every song Palacios and other supporters sang Saturday was for Dana Libonati. The musicians got together to put on the “Concert for Dana” not only to make him feel their affection, but also to raise money to help support him through his recovery from cardiac cancer.

About 250 people attended the musical event in the McMinnville Community Center. The audience included current students, former students, parents and teaching colleagues. It also included members of the community who had heard his McMinnville High School or Linfield College choirs sing, had heard him play jazz piano at local events or knew him personally or by reputation.

“He’s been involved with the community,” said Ed Wanner of Mid-Valley Employment Services as he headed for the auditorium. “He’s just supported everything. Now we’re here to support him.”

Another couple arriving for the concert, Larry and Leah Flake, said they’ve heard him play and appreciated his stellar reputation with student musicians.

“He’s a wonderful guy,” Leah Flake said, noting that she and her husband were looking forward to an evening of good music.

Flake’s assessment was shared by Donna Root, secretary in the music department at Linfield College when Libonati taught jazz choir there.

“I love Dana,” she said. “He’s an outstanding musician and a wonderful friend.”

The Concert for Dana was spearheaded by friends and former students after they heard about the beloved teacher’s illness.

Libonati was diagnosed with an extremely rare, life-threatening cardiac cancer in early October. Surgeons removed an orange-sized tumor from beside his heart and began treating him with chemotherapy to kill cancer cells that had invaded the vital organ.

He’s now doing well enough to return to teaching on a part-time basis. But he still faces a lengthy recovery.

To help, supporters started Go Team Dana.

In December, the group, clad in teal T-shirts imprinted with the slogan and musical notes, started a website and social media effort. They placed signs around town. They began planning fundraisers. And they surprised Libonati by storming his home with signs and cheers.

They returned to the home last week to kidnap Libonati’s loveseat. They placed the cushy, rust-colored couch front and center so the teacher and his wife, Kim, would have the most comfortable seats in the house.

“Usually, I’d be sitting on it watching some hockey game on a Saturday night,” Libonati said, shaking his head over the good-natured theft.

A die-hard hockey fan, he clearly was happy to trade a game for a special concert. But he said he felt humbled, as well.

“It’s very weird, almost surreal, to think this is all for me,” he said.

It definitely was, said Jeremy Moll of Go Team Dana.

One of Libonati’s students at Linfield and now a professional musician, Moll hadn’t even wanted to advertise the lineup for the concert. He had just wanted to “highlight Dana and to encourage people to come out to share this special night with him, not draw them to the show based on who is performing.”

About a dozen musicians, most former students, opened the concert with the Eagles’ song, “Take It Easy.” They went on to “Reminiscing,” featuring Mac High grad Logan Freitas, who flew in from Hawaii.

Palacios took the lead on “Proud Mary.” The crowd sang along on the tail of the chorus — “Rollin’ ... rollin’ ... rollin’ on the river.”

Audience members also sang along with Moll as he took a solo turn on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” But they went still as several of the musicians performed Sting’s ethereal “Fragile.”

“On and on the rain will fall, like tears from a star, like tears from a star,” the song goes. “On and on the rain will say how fragile we are how fragile we are.”

Bethany Blanchard played both electric bass and acoustic, the latter to accompany a vocal solo. Molly Wampler, a Linfield grad, sang “Our Love is Here to Stay” and “My Funny Valentine.”

Guitarist Mike Fite, who sang and played with the Twilighters, traded licks with fellow Mac High graduate David Floratos on tenor sax.

“Dana is super-integral to this community,” Fite said. “I learned an absurd amount from him, as a teacher, a musician and a friend.”

Through it all, Libonati’s two granddaughters, both toddlers, twirled and danced.

Libonati couldn’t keep still, either. He danced in his seat and threw back his head as he applauded. And, several times, he raised his arms like a director, pointing to the back-up singers when they were to come in or gesturing with his right hand to punctuate a musical line.

Vintage Voices, the adult jazz choir Libonati directs, also took the stage. The group chose a pair of light-hearted numbers, such as Nat King Cole’s “Frim Fram Sauce,” to show their love for Libonati.

“Vintage Voices is a nice opportunity for us to get together with others to sing,” said Laura Siering, who also is a fellow teacher. “Dana makes that possible. He is such an inspiration to us.”

The concert also featured the Pick Up the Phone Band, a group of teachers rounded up once a year by Marty Palacios, Duniway Middle School assistant principal, for the school district’s welcome back event.

Normally, Libonati plays piano with the group. In fact, he did so for the most recent program, a few days before having emergency surgery to implant a pacemaker in an effort to cure what turned out to be symptoms of his cancer.

“I didn’t call you this time,” Palacios told Libonati as the Pick Up the Phone Band took the stage.

The members performed a James Taylor song, the same number they did a decade ago on the group’s first outing.

“Shower the people you love with love, show them the way you feel,” they sang, this time focusing on Libonati in particular. “Things are gonna be much better if you only will.”

Palacios said the song was a perfect fit. “We have a lot of love,” he said, “and we want to rain it down on him tonight.”

Aimee Palacios, who joined her dad in the Pick Up the Phone Band, said she learned so much from Libonati when she was singing in his Mac High groups. So did her classmates.

“He encouraged us and provided so many opportunities,” said Palacios, now teaching at Wascher Elementary School. “This is our opportunity to turn it around and encourage him.”

In addition to singing “Make You Feel My Love” at the concert, she sang it for a video promoting the event. Moll accompanied her on electronic piano.

They chose the song for Bob Dylan’s particularly fitting lyrics.

“When the rain is blowing in your face, and the whole world is on your case, I could offer you a warm embrace to make you feel my love,” the song begins.

It sums up what Palacios and the other musicians were thinking when they planned the Concert for Dana. “No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love.”

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