Focus on the Arts in LCUSD

By Assistant Superintendent Human Resources, Dr. Jeff Davis

Steve Maraboli, the author of the book “Life, the Truth, and Being Free” is quoted as saying “When you establish a destination by defining what you want, then take physical action by making choices that move you towards that destination, the possibility for success is limitless and arrival at the destination is inevitable”.
 
In response to declining enrollment in our secondary orchestra and band programs, a Superintendent’s Task Force on these LCHS music programs began in September 2015 to identify both short and long-range action plans to reverse the trend.  Spearheaded by LCUSD Governing Board President David Sagal and Superintendent Sinnette, the committee engaged in action research on band and orchestra programs throughout California and the nation, completed a curriculum review study, worked with an Assistance League representative to examine our Elementary Music feeder program, and completed an in-depth analysis of actions and strategies to strengthen and bolster the programs.
 
The results of this work are already reaping benefits for our students and the district music program.  Three new Music educators were hired over the summer and these dynamic musicians are already energizing their students and instilling a love for the universal language of music.  Jennifer Munday, James (Jimmy) Myers and Michael Davis bring a vast wealth of musical expertise and knowledge to our students throughout the district, to add to the talents of Jason Stone, LCHS Marching Band Director, and Palm Crest Elementary music teacher David Wulff.
 
Jennifer Munday
 
How many high schools can boast that their string orchestra conductor has played with the L.A. Chamber Orchestra (LACO) for 35 years, played violin on some of Frank Sinatra’s records, and has played in some of the most prestigious music festivals both internationally and here in the U.S.?  Well, LCHS can certainly make that claim.  Jennifer Munday, the new LCHS (9-12) String orchestra conductor, has done all of this and much more in her career that includes a B.A. in Music, Violin Performance and Music Education from Chapman and an M.A. in Violin Performance from USC.  As a Trojan, while on two T.A. scholarships (USC String Quartet and First Chair of Second Violins) she played in the USC Chamber Orchestra and performed many violin recitals, while learning from such notable professors as: Daniel Lewis, who helped make the USC Symphony one of the most respected conservatory ensembles in the nation; Eudice Shapiro, who in the 1940’s became the first female concertmaster in any studio orchestra and the legendary Jascha Heifetz, considered one of the greatest violinists and performing artists of all time.
 
Since 1980 Jennifer has maintained her stature as a member of LACO’s first violin section, and has also performed chamber music and soloed with LACO, as well as at the Casals, Oregon Bach and San Luis Obispo Mozart festivals.  Jennifer has also played violin in several movies, television shows, has done several studio calls, and has years of experience as a private instructor and has also taught for the Assistance League of La Cañada Flintridge (ALF).
 
Jennifer traces her musical inspiration back to her elementary school days at Macarthur Elementary School in Lakewood, when she was taken by the sound of one of the elementary school performing groups.  “I thought that is so amazing that all of them could play together like that”.  She also remembers watching “Almost Angels” on Disney’s Wonderful World of Color when she was a small child, and being amazed that the Vienna Boys Choir got to travel all over the world and play in cathedrals. She thought to herself “If you’re a musician you get to travel…I want to do that”.  She started playing the violin in fourth grade and continued into her high school years at Fountain Valley High School, where she was concertmaster for four years, a member of the All Southern California Honor Orchestra and a cheerleader.
 
Jennifer is excited about conducting the 9-12 string orchestra and was excited about their first performance, which took place on October 10th.  “I really look forward to coming and rehearsing my students every morning…I’m having such a blast”.  She added, “Jason (Stone) has been a great help and it’s been great working with both Jason and Jimmy (Myers)”.  In terms of her daily expectations for her orchestra students Jennifer says she has explained to them “Look at this as a place where you can have a good time playing music.  This is what I expect:  Be here, on time, with a really good attitude and always try your best”.  In terms of what Jennifer adds to the program Jason Stone commented “Having Jennifer join the program gives the orchestra a fresh look into their playing.  She brings a passion and musicality that is going to affect every student that plays in their group.  Having someone who is local, musically amazing and wants to build an amazing sounding orchestra, as well as a great place for students, is exactly what our orchestra program needs”. LCHS Principal Ian McFeat exclaims, “Jennifer is a fantastic hire who has brought an experience factor to our program, led through her devotion to music and penchant for creativity. We are lucky to have her on our faculty.”
 
James (Jimmy) Myers
 
A 2008 La Cañada High School grad, Jimmy Myers is another energizing addition to the district’s music program.  Jimmy is teaching two class periods at LCHS (7/8 Orchestra and the 7/8 Honor band) and is also the new Elementary Music teacher at Paradise Canyon Elementary School (PCY).
 
Jimmy has deep roots in La Cañada, LCHS and music in general.  His dad was in the LCHS band as a student and Jimmy sees music as part of this family’s legacy.  He became interested in music when he was a child.  As a fourth grader at Palm Crest Elementary School (PCR) he would listen to his older brother play the trumpet and soon Jimmy was hooked on the instrument.  He remembers Mrs. Marks and Mrs. Blake teaching music at PCR and helping to grow his love for music as a young boy.  As he moved on to the 7/8 he began taking private lessons with local musician Kevin Brown.  He believes his time with Kevin Brown is when his playing really began to improve and that Kevin’s tutelage helped him through his time at LCHS and his first few years of college.  While at LCHS Jimmy was an integral part of everything the music program had to offer and got him to the place where he knew he wanted to study music in college.  At San Diego State University (SDSU) Jimmy earned his B.A. in Musical Performance and performed in SDSU’s Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, and Jazz Band.  After graduating from SDSU, Jimmy performed as a freelance trumpet player, assisted with the LCHS Marching Band and went to graduate school, earning his M.A. in Teaching and Music from Bard College’s Longey School of Music.  Jimmy then earned his teaching credential and worked as a substitute teacher in the LCUSD, as well as a teacher at both Crescenta Valley Adventist School and for ALF, before being hired by the LCUSD this summer.

In regard to his new positions in the LCUSD Jimmy states “The reception I’ve received from everyone, at PCY and at LCHS, has been so great.  It’s all music, all the time and the kids are taking to it like fish to water”.  In looking at Jimmy’s early work with the 7/8 Orchestra and Honor Band, Dr. Jarrett Gold, 7/8 Principal states, “Jimmy is a hard working teacher who is always doing things in the best interest of students. He is kind and understanding, while pushing students to improve.” Jimmy’s former high school teacher Jason Stone says, “The musicality, expertise and joy for teaching that James brings fits perfectly into the ideals and goals for the program.  It’s amazing to have someone you trust completely working alongside of you on a daily basis”.  In terms of his work at the elementary level PCY principal Dr. Debra Cradduck states “Jimmy Myers has been a wonderful new addition at PCY.  Music has quickly become a favorite enrichment class as the PCY students and teachers look forward to Mr. Myers’ friendly and engaging manner.  We are looking forward to the upcoming concerts, as well as the 6th grade musical”.
 
Michael Davis
 
Michael Davis had big shoes to fill in taking over the reins at La Cañada Elementary School from Catherine Spry who left in June to move to the East Coast, but the Class of 2000 La Cañada High School graduate has stepped right in and has not skipped a beat.  “Catherine has been such a great help by leaving me what she did last year with the kids and by always being available via email or phone if I have any questions”, says Michael.
 
Coming from a musical family, Michael was drawn to musical instruments at an early age. He first tried the piano and violin during this his early elementary days at PCR with Mrs. Marks.  Then, one day when he was in fourth grade the LCHS jazz band came to perform and that is when he knew he wanted to play the trumpet.  He remembers Rick Espinoza, the current Director of Bands at Missouri Southern State University, as one of the trumpet players that stood out for him that day.
 
Like Jimmy Myers, Michael also took private lessons from Kevin Brown throughout middle and high school.  While at LCHS Michael excelled musically, performing in the Marching Band, Jazz Band, as a member of the Pasadena Young Musicians Orchestra (PYMO), and was selected to be a member of the Tournament of Roses Marching Band for three consecutive years.
 
Michael attended Oberlin College’s Conservatory of Music on a Dean’s Scholarship.  While at Oberlin, one of the nation’s top music conservatories, he met and worked with the person he says is “the most influential teacher I’ve had” in Roy Poper, the Professor of Trumpet at Oberlin.  “I still talk to Ray and enjoy going back and working at Oberlin’s trumpet workshop in the summer”.
 
After graduating from Oberlin in 2004 Michael returned to Southern California and enrolled in graduate school at USC’s Thornton School of Music, where he earned his M.A. in Music Performance in 2007.  Professionally, Michael has played regularly with the Santa Barbara Symphony and Opera, has done a great deal of studio work for television shows, video games, and films, and has even stepped in a few times at the L.A. Philharmonic.
 
As a music teacher Michael has given private lessons for several years along with: serving as an adjunct music faculty member at Cal State Dominguez Hills for the past seven years, teaching at ALF for 10 years, working as a “Teaching Artist” for the Youth Orchestra Mentorship Program (YOMP) in Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach and in South Los Angeles, and working with the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra.
 
As LCE’s music teacher Michael is really enjoying his time working with the elementary school students.  “It’s fun to inspire the kids to love music and everyone at the school has been so helpful…it’s been awesome”.  LCE Principal Emily Blaney says, “Michael has fit in nicely to our school community.  He is a familiar face to many of us because he has been part of the ALF music program for years.  He goes the extra mile to maintain our excellent music program and he recently scheduled performances for every grade level in the school!”
 
A strong foundation in the arts is a critical component of our educational program, especially at the elementary school level.  The evidence of this lies with the fact that all three of these new additions to our music program found their musical inspiration when they were elementary students.  Ironically, they are now able to give back to our students because they never let go of their musical dreams and aspirations which began years ago as elementary school students. There is no doubt that the future shines bright for our district music programs, with these talented musicians guiding our students.