Richard Gigger Jr. and his wife Ellen Kaminer-Gigger.

Richard Gigger Jr., who directed the San Fernando High School marching band from 1982-99, died in his Northridge home on Sunday, Nov. 13. He was 87.

Ellen Kaminer-Gigger, his wife of 21 years, said many former students came by on Sunday to say goodbye. “It was such a lovely, beautiful thing,” she said.

Known affectionally as “Gig” to students and faculty alike, he and Ellen were pillars in the school’s music department. He directed the band; she was a vocal and piano teacher who also directed the school’s drill team.

During their tenure, the band won 13 Los Angeles Unified School District band and drill team championships.

A memorial is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Mt. Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Los Angeles, with a reception immediately following.

Esau Perez, who played trombone in the band form 1993-96, said Gigger was “probably the most energetic teacher I’ve ever seen.”

“He was always doing something, always moving,” said Perez, now a special education teacher at the Sylmar Biotech Health Academy. “If he was walking around the campus he walked fast. He walked with purpose. He would say ‘hello’ to anyone he encounter. But if he saw any students doing something wrong, or somewhere they weren’t supposed to be, he would say ‘you’re shuckin’ and jivin’.’ That was his way of calling you out.”

Perez said Gigger always let students have input into the music they played at games or events. 

“He was passionate about the music. Whatever it was, he wanted us to play it right. He’d choose music that would make us feel something,” Perez said.

“He would allow us to decide which music we would play. If we didn’t like a song and it showed when we played, he would scrap it. He also introduced us to music we might otherwise wouldn’t have listened to, like Earth, Wind & Fire, Chuck Mangione, and Herb Albert.”

Gigger was also an Army band musician for 25 years, Ellen said. And he was part of a harrowing aspect of history.

Gigger was stationed at Ft. Irwin while the Army was conducting nuclear test explosions in Nevada during the 1950s. Live soldiers were placed in various locations during the explosions, and bands were there to play music.

“There was no protective gear for them,” Ellen said. “After they finished playing, they were told to get into a trench behind them, bend down and cover their eyes.”

There are plans in January to rename the music building at San Fernando High after Gigger. The building exterior would include a mural of Gigger, a series of school band uniforms and acknowledgement of the city championships.

Former band members have raised $7,000 toward the project and are trying to raise another $5,000. Donations can be made to the school, attention “Gigger.” 

Besides Ellen, Gigger is survived by sons Richard II, Terry and Jerry. stepdaughters Aimmee and Zoëy, and their husbands Steven and Peter; and six grandchildren.

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries is located at 5950 Forest Lawn Dr., Los Angeles, CA . 90068. A reception will be held shortly after the services at the Gigger Residence. You must RSVP on the Facebook Gigger Tribute page to attend the reception.

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