Music from on high

A music instructor guides students through exercises.

I was one of about 500 local people who experienced a musical event that only comes around once a year.

The event was a culmination of a week of intensive study and practice by 160 students from the many schools of the Sweetwater Union High School District.

For me this all started a couple of weeks ago when Bonita residents Jim and Marilyn Doyle told me they were going to take a run up to the school camp in the Cuyamaca State Park. They asked me if I cared to go along. I didn’t take long in accepting their invitation.

I love going to Cuyamaca. It brings back many happy memories. There were many a week I spent there, with my sixth grade pupils, back in my education days, which now, seems so long ago.

Over the years the camp has changed a bit, with new construction making it more suitable for the group who is seeking a serene and pleasant place for some concentrated study. They find it in this bucolic setting.

We spent most of Thursday of last week at the camp. We were met by the camp director Charles Wolf, who has been a music educator for 30 years.

He is currently the music director and teacher of music at Eastlake High School.

Wolf has, however, been the director of the Cuyamaca summer program for the past 10 years. His enthusiasm was evidence in that he was very pleased with the way the week was going.

He was fortunate because his faculty at the camp reads like a who’s who of music education in San Diego County.

I think that persons of education, particularly those of them in the arts, have a tendency to want to come back to their origin. They go to school in the South Bay or they have teaching assignments in those schools, but then they leave for other pastures.

But, in later years, they return. We met, for example, Joseph Paguio who was teaching vocal music at camp. We learn that he is in the doctoral program at USC and has taught music in Alhambra. He is a graduate of Chula Vista High School, the school that gave him his musical start.

We also renewed our friendship with Sandra Stram who is the string orchestra consultant at the camp.

Though she is presently employed by the San Diego United School District she was, not long ago, a musical instructor and director here in Sweetwater.

Stram, in fact, was the director of the first Sweetwater Symphonic Benefit Concert that was staged some 16 years ago.

Each teacher had his own space separate enough from the others so as to create minimal interference.

Wolf directed us to the Jazz Band group that was led by Fred Marx who teaches at Montgomery Middle School and Fredd Sanchez who directs the Mariachi ensemble.

He also teaches in the Sweetwater District at Olympian and Otay Ranch High School. Javier Velasco a dance specialist and Carlos Santoyo were in the dance category of instruction.

Velasco has taught quite extensively but he had his roots at Chula Vista High School, graduating in 1978. Sontoyo, whose passion is teaching Mexican folklorico, has taught in the district since 1978.

The culmination of the week was on Saturday, not at Cuyamaca, but at the Ruth Chapman Center for the Arts at Eastlake High School.

The camper/students came off the mountain and without a visit home they went directly to the high school and prepared for their show.

We were greeted at the entrance to the auditorium by an exhibition from the visual art department. Bruce Groff, an art teacher at Hilltop High School, in his second year at the school camp, had his students exhibit self portraits and still life images, all very well done.

The staged program consisted of all the above named groups, that is, the vocal, the strings, the dances, the Mariachis, the Jazz Band with a mighty culmination by the Symphonic Band led by instructor Tom Cole.

Cole is a well-known musical director and teacher in San Diego County Schools.

As a sort of an encore, Wolf brought the entire company together, all 160 of them with their version of “Sing a Song.”

This was also audience participation time so most of the 500 or so present lighted up the Eastlake skies with joyous music.

Wolf, in his closing remarks praised the program, the district for sponsoring it, the school staff, the parents of the students, but, more importantly, the students who attended. He implied that there was not one negative word or action from anyone at Cuyamaca during the week.

In my many years of covering and writing about school activities I would have to rate this camp right up there with the best.

I say this not because I enjoy the music and am entertained, but because I feel so strongly about the arts program in schools.

We speak of the importance of the disciplines, that is, reading, other parts of the language arts, the mathematics, and so on, which is right and proper.

It is our hope that the arts, of all types, be classified right up there with the disciplines with no thoughts of cutbacks or limiting.

Oh, and one other thing: I hope I get invited to the music camp in 2011.