"This is my eulogy," Hesperia High School's popular piano instructor Dr. Surajeet Chatterji said as the final performer of an hour-long pre-recital demonstration sat down to play "Breakers."


Through a flurry of rapid-fire arpeggios, Luis Devon Besso's performance spoke a veritable music score of deep thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams. It was Besso who several years ago petitioned to have the India-born, Russian-trained teacher plant new roots at Hesperia High.


"That's why all of us are here today," Chatterji said about Besso's initial drive and determination that helped win him his teaching position.


Despite the melodic ebullience, a mist of melancholy hung over the 25 students.


Recently Dr. Chatterji was one of more than 50 teachers in the school district to receive a pink slip. The district's cuts come after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed cutting more than $5.6 billion from state education over the next year. That left newly named HUSD superintendent Mark McKinney facing an immensely tough decision almost as soon as his new name plaque was put on his desk. Making the choice to cut Chatterji's program even more challenging is that along with school board member Hardy Black and HHS Principal Larry Porras, McKinney has a child who has discovered impressive musical abilities through Chatterji's direction.


According to McKinney, Chatterji "is absolutely a phenomenal teacher, and I have my own son in the program."


However, he added, Chatterji's program is relatively expense when compared to teachers with larger numbers of students.


"He has 25 kids in the program, and that's it."


Chatterji embraces the Russian style of classical piano performance. Instead of clunking down the ivories in a boring, typewriter-like fashion, he instructs his students to pour their hearts and souls into every note and phrase. The result is striking.


"I tell them this is not a class of piano. It's a class of drama," he said.


All students seem to excel under Chatterji, with some more dramatically than others, however.


With her hair covering her face, Leah Oubre attacks a piano piece with the skill of a seasoned concert professional. Despite being a straight-A student, Oubre says that sometimes the class is all that gets her through the day.


"Man, do I have to go to school?" she said. "But the piano class is like a family."


Jonathan Schilling, another top performer who graduated from HHS last year, discovered that despite his high grades and drive - Schilling is currently a college pre-med student - something was missing.


"I didn't think I needed anything else," Schilling said. "I realized I was wrong, incredibly wrong. The musical, artistic part of me was dry."


When parent Glen Kraig heard his daughter Adriana's playing after beginning the class he said, "I was flabbergasted." In fact, when he sent a CD of her playing to family back east, they thought it was a professional pianist on the recording.


"School should be more than filling in bubbles on tests," he said. "The arts is one part of the total child. Closing something like this down would be really sad for Hesperia."


Parents say that Chatterji's class has more than just boosted their children's self-esteem, the transformative change has been life-affirming. Otherwise average students have discovered they can truly excel.


Tina Walker Simmons, a mother of one of the younger students, Daniel, says the piano class has completely changed her son, who has battled learning challenges.


"It has made an awesome difference," Simmons said. "Just the thought of the possibilities is amazing. He makes you feel like you can do just about anything."


Like he did several years ago, Besso once again is canvassing the community with a petition. This time, he's hoping his work - and that of other piano class members and program supporters - will convince the district to save Chatterji's class.


But if the cut is upheld Simmons believes the special time Chatterji has been in Hesperia has been more than worth it.


"It's a once in a lifetime thing," she said.


Chatterji agrees.


"I've never had such a splendid experience of life as I have teaching in Hesperia. I've never felt such a sense of mission than I've felt in Hesperia."