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At DLI, the Faculty that Works Together Plays Together

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

MONTEREY, Calif., Oct. 24, 2008 – Curriculum development is taken very seriously at the Defense Language Institute’s Foreign Language Center here, and rightly so. It shapes what and how students learn languages.

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Extra Curriculum, a band formed by staff members of Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center's curriculum development division, perform for their co-workers and their families. The band is a DLI favorite, performing mostly classic rock. Photo courtesy of Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center

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But that’s not to say the staff doesn’t know how to shake off the pressures of creating new curricula where none existed before. Actually, they’re quite good at “Extra Curriculum,” the band formed by members of DLI’s curriculum development division.

“[It’s] a clever play on words, and … with the exception of one member, everybody was from the curriculum development division, so we thought that, at least internally, it made sense,” said Steve Koppany, dean of curriculum development, recalling when the band formed in 2004.

“It just came out of a kind of a latent need for people to interrelate on a different level -- not just on work projects, but also something that’s a little bit different,” Koppany said.

Deb DiMaggio started singing for the band when she still worked for Koppany.

“I have had much singing experience and band experience, and was hoping I could join the ‘cool kids,’” said DiMaggio, who currently works as DLI’s staff action control officer and first performed in fourth grade for Vaudeville actor Jim Chambers. “It’s a really great way to still be able to fulfill our musical needs and get together and be friends all at the same time.”

Though the band croons a couple of original tunes, Koppany said, it mostly covers classic rock songs. It’s that fact, combined with the appearance of some of the band members, that shocked their co-workers and sealed their popularity with the DLI audience.

“It was funny,” Koppany said. “The first time we played, I think people had opened eyes. They didn’t realize that people like John Lett, who has a nice, big ‘Santa Claus’ beard, would be playing drums in a rock and roll band. I think that was actually at least 50 percent of the success -- the shock effect.”

The band’s weekly rehearsals on an abandoned stage in an old elementary school that houses the curriculum development department also may have something to do with that success, along with playing what the audience -- mostly DLI faculty and staff members -- wants to hear: ZZ Top, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Aretha Franklin, to name a few. And the band performs a couple of what DiMaggio described as “groovy” Hungarian tunes, as well.

What they play, the band members said, depends on who’s playing with them. For now, the once seven-member band is down to five members.

“Right now, we’re going through a little bit of a crisis with our lead guitar player having left,” Koppany said. “We’re slowly climbing back.

“Even our provost [Donald Fischer] has considered playing with us, and he’s a mean guitar player,” he added. “He was a big surprise to us, because in professional settings he doesn’t come across as a guitar virtuoso, but he’s very, very good.”

Regardless of what the band looks like, Extra Curriculum has a grand time playing, mostly at ceremonies for retiring DLI faculty or staff. Occasionally, they get a gig off post at an outdoor arts and crafts festival and have even played for a Naval Post Graduate School audience.

“We also had at least one event that I would describe as a semi-success, where we had two people in the audience,” Koppany said. “It’s worse than that. The two people were my friends from Hungary!”

Be that as it may, fans pepper Extra Curriculum members with thanks and e-mails requesting show schedules, something Koppany saw last when he played with a band as a teen.

Growing up in Hungary, Koppany performed mostly in classical choirs when he got into a rock band for a reason many teen boys get into rock bands -- “to get girls,” he said. The regular Saturday night and occasional Sunday night gigs lasted until June 1971, when a choir performance took him and his sister to Austria.

“We went to Austria with the choir, [and] that’s when I escaped,” he said. “The bus pulls in and my dad had everything organized already.

“He had left before us. I knew where to go. I just had to grab my sister, who was in the same choir,” Koppany said. “We had a couple of undercover cops on the bus, which made it very interesting. They were supposed to be watching.”

So the Koppany siblings met their father and started the trek that would lead them to the United States.

“I was actually 18 when I left Hungary, and there was kind of a hiatus between then and the time we formed this band,” he said.

And this band, Extra Curriculum, has shown a diverse group of co-workers who have more in common than their work.

“It’s sort of our little world, and it’s kind of our way of sort of being in a spotlight of some sort,” DiMaggio said.

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Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeb DiMaggio, staff action control officer at Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, is a singer in Extra Curriculum, a band formed in 2004 by staff members of DLI's curriculum development division. Photo courtesy of Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSteve Koppany, dean of curriculum development for Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, plays with Extra Curriculum, the band he and Tamas Marius formed in 2004. All the band members worked in DLI's curriculum development division. Photo courtesy of Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center  
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