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New FHS orchestra teacher to train the young 'padawans'

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David Cripps may now be the Flagstaff High School orchestra teacher, but the celebrated horn player still gets asked about another performance, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

“Carrie Fisher thinks she was Princess Leia,” Cripps joked. “But really, it’s me.”

Cripps played the lead horn in the London Symphony Orchestra under Grammy-winning composer John Williams when the score for Star Wars was recorded. All of the horn solo parts in the three original Star Wars movies were played by Cripps, including “Princess Leia’s Theme.” Cripps also played in the three original “Superman” movies, also composed by Williams.

He was hired at FHS at the beginning of January, after the former orchestra teacher resigned the position. Tony Cullen, the school’s principal, asked Cripps, who is also a bus driver in the school district, to take the job.

Cripps said it did not take long for the students to learn about their teacher’s famous past.

“On the first day, Tony sat in on the class and told them all about me,” Cripps said.

Cripps came to Flagstaff in 2003 after seeking a full-time teaching position as a horn instructor. The only opening he found was at Northern Arizona University, so the British musician decided to move to Flagstaff to teach. He later met his wife, Melissa, and formed Orchestra Northern Arizona, which now includes about 65 musicians ranging from high school students to adults in their 80s.

Despite years of a lucrative music career, including traveling the globe and performing with famous musicians, Cripps said, when he is in the United States, he always gets asked about “Star Wars.”

All of the questions about the movie are a little ironic for Cripps, who is not a fan of science fiction movies. As a benefit of playing in the symphony, he received tickets to the London movie premiere when the original film was first made. He gave them away.

“I don’t go to movies very often,” he said.

Cripps has not even seen the newest episode yet.

“My stepson gave me the soundtrack for Christmas,” he said. “I’m interested to hear the music.”

He said he had not gotten around to listening to the soundtrack by early January because he said he tends to prefer classical music. However, he said he likes to see the enthusiasm that fans have for the movie.

“I think it’s very sweet that it’s taken off like it did,” Cripps said.

Now, Cripps is content with teaching high school students and fostering a love for playing music.

“People who have had the kind of career and success that I have should teach and generate enthusiasm at this level,” he said. “I’ve had so many wonderful experiences all over the world. The journey has been fun every minute of the way. If I can share that with young people, then it’s worthwhile.”

Despite the expansion of the franchise, which now includes movies that do not have Cripps’ performances, he said he does not have any feelings of loss toward the newer movies without his music.

“I was the first to play it, and I was the only person to ever play it,” he said. “No one can take that from me.”

The reporter can be reached at or 556-2249.


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City Government and Development Reporter

Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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