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Music to Their Ears

Nov 03, 2015 03:56PM ● By Elena Hutslar

By Jaki Jones

A trio of teachers is working towards building a comprehensive music program at College Park High School. With the increase in music classes, a new instructor, and two added piano classes this year, there are also growing pains that stem from progress and expansion.

In only six years, the music program has flourished under the direction of instrumental music teacher Jorge Jimenez and choral teacher Bruce Rockwell, in their 5th and 6th years, respectively, of teaching at the high school. Rockwell oversees a beginning mixed choir, an all-girls treble choir, a concert choir, and beginning guitar classes. “When I got that guitar class in the schedule for the first time in spring 2014, there were 120 students who signed up to be in it and only space for 60,” he said. In anticipation of another wave of interest, a second beginning guitar class was added this school year.

Jimenez directs a thriving instrumental music program. While he is the instructor for the audition jazz ensemble, audition wind ensemble, middle band symphony, and chamber orchestra, he also developed the curriculum for and piloted an AP Music Theory class, currently in its fourth year. “We are the only high school in the district that offers AP Music Theory. This year I have 27 students in the AP class,” he commented.

The notion of adding a piano class to the music program’s repertoire began last spring, and both Jimenez and Rockwell worked to receive the necessary approvals from the district and school administration. Due to its popularity, the school was able to accommodate two classes in the new piano lab, where every student has their own keyboard. The classes are currently in the piloting stage until approved by the school board this spring, making the course available to any district high school that wants it.

Enter another addition to the burgeoning music department: Alexa Tsarnas. With a Bachelor of Music degree in music education from Sonoma State, Tsarnas took over the introductory groups this year: freshman concert band, beginning jazz band, beginning string orchestra, and the two beginning piano classes.

Creating a comprehensive music program that exceeds other high schools in the district is likely to happen. “Bruce and I have really been looking at making the entire music department—choral and instrumental—more comprehensive, rather than separate entities. Encompassing the more general music classes, like guitar and piano, will reach the student population that maybe did not start an instrument in elementary school, or didn’t join choir, or has limited musical background, but is willing to explore these two classes,” said Jimenez.

Rockwell would like to grow his program to add a 4th choir. He will spend the next year or two in that endeavor and also work on offering an advanced guitar class next school year. “It really has a transformative effect when you have a large portion of your student body in the music program. Right now, around 24% of the student body is taking music classes at College Park, and we could certainly grow that to 30% pretty easily. It just improves everything; it improves test scores, attendance, and school culture. That is a really big reason to grow the program,” he explained.

The music building, however, has reached capacity and according to Jimenez, with the increasing strength of the music programs in the middle schools and high school, the solution is to build a performing arts center at College Park. Rockwell added, “We’ve outgrown these facilities to where we really need more classroom space, a theatre and more ensemble space, practice rooms, etc. We have the ideal square footage here for the kind of theatre we need.” Several Falcon parents have expressed interest in forming a committee to look into grant sources. “This is a good ten-year project. It’s such a huge ball to get rolling that we have to start now and begin the research. No high school in our district has this,” said Jimenez, who is afraid it may come to the point where he has to turn away kids because there is no more room. 

In the meantime, the teachers foresee a curriculum of multiple sections and levels of orchestra, piano, and guitar, and want to expand the program to include music technology courses, theatre tech, and an honor choir. Jimenez is optimistic and affirmed, “We will make things work as the growth happens. Give us a few more years, and we’ll have a fourth music teacher here.”

There are two upcoming music concerts: The Renaissance Holiday Feast for choir on November 13 and 14 at College Park and the Candlelight Holiday Concerts at St. Andrews Presbyterian in December that combine both choir and instrumental music.