Benefit concert will be music to retired choir teacher’s ears

Music saved Pat Castro.

Growing up poor in Mountlake Terrace, Castro said, he expected to fail. Then he reached high school, where he found success playing clarinet and singing tenor.

Now the retired Snohomish High School choir teacher wants to make sure that vocal music students from Snohomish have encouragement in the form of a college scholarship.

Castro and several of his former Snohomish High School students have organized an annual concert — the second one set for Saturday — that will raise money for the Patrick Castro Excellence in Vocal Music Award.

The concert will feature performances by Snohomish graduates including Billie Wildrick, class of 1996, who appears regularly in musical theater productions at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. Most recently she sang the role of Cinderella in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”

Jesse Bettis also plans to sing musical theater tunes, while Michael Johnson, Maret Mills Unruh and Rani Weatherby have prepared jazz standards. Other performers will include Michelle Boseck, a classical soprano; drummer Donn Pratt, who is traveling from Boston; and University of Washington freshman Surya Manickam, who won the first Castro scholarship last year.

Castro said all of the performers are first rate and enthusiastic about the concert.

“We don’t sing just because we like to or because we have fun or because we get applause. We sing because we must,” Castro said. “I really believe that.”

And though his former students may insist that he sing Saturday, too, Castro plans to sit in the audience and enjoy the show.

“It’ll be all I can do to keep the tears from rolling down my face,” he said. “These kids, these performers, will be here to make a difference for others.”

At Mountlake Terrace High School, where Castro graduated in 1969, the music teachers who made a difference in his life were band teacher Ray Martyn and choral directors Ed Aliverti and Frank DeMiero, all well-known musicians and educators in south Snohomish County.

“As a kid, I had a mind-set of failure, the poor little kid with no attention. But my family was musical and my teachers were great, and that’s what saved me,” Castro said.

At Everett Community College, choir teacher Ted Wahlstrom further encouraged Castro, who eventually graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in music education. Later he earned a master’s degree in voice from Central Washington University.

After teaching music at Dayton High School in Eastern Washington and Port Townsend High School on the Olympic Peninsula, Castro and his wife RaeLyn moved to Snohomish. There they raised their children Jason and Julie while he taught for 22 years at Snohomish High School.

“It was a big school with lots of traditions, and it was a great place to be,” Castro said.

Tammy Leslie Holten, a member of the Castro scholarship committee and a former student, said the school choirs did a lot of touring in those days, including a very memorable trip to the Great Wall of China.

“After all these years, I still want to call him Mr. Castro,” Holten said. “He taught discipline and values, but he was more than a teacher to us. He had a couch in the choir room, and we would hang out there. We formed lifelong friendships.”

Castro said that when a teaching position is right, there’s no better job in the world.

“I was blessed as a teacher. I was pretty good, and sometimes I thought I was (famed conductor) Arturo Toscanini, but I didn’t deserve it. I was just blessed.”

Over the years Castro also has performed, often as a tenor soloist, with such organizations as the Walla Walla and Port Angeles symphony orchestras, the Everett Chorale and the Seattle Chorale Company.

Castro, who now lives in Marysville, has kept busy since retiring in 2005. He works as a courier for Compass Health as well as a football spotter and basketball statistician for KRKO (1380 AM) radio in Everett.

A sports fan, he also is the official scorekeeper for the Everett AquaSox and was instrumental in getting the baseball club to audition community members to sing the U.S. and Canadian national anthems at games.

“Baseball and music together. That’s how it should be,” he said.

Castro said he’s looking forward to the concert Saturday and has high hopes for a good fundraising effort. And he’s already planning the concert for next year, a musical review of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, complete with an orchestra.

“Concerts are the best way to raise money,” he said.

Reporter Gale Fiege, 425-339-3427 or

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