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DUSD Graduate Returns to Help Preserve Music Traditions at Wells Middle School

January 26, 2021

In addition to critical health concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on school communities throughout the country. In Dublin, graduating seniors have lost commencements and those in elementary school are learning virtually without the ability to enjoy recess with their peers. Students at our middle schools have learned to navigate a six-period day without actually walking through the hallways.

Despite so much that has been sacrificed, there have also been many ingenious ways to maintain “normalcy” demonstrated by teachers, staff members and students. One such legacy experience was maintained by 2016 Dublin High School graduate, Davis Zamboanga. Davis performed with the Wells Middle School Roadrunner Marching Band and was a featured member of their Jazz Band. During his tenure, he earned the position of Drum Major and repeated this distinction with the Dublin High School Irish Guard. Upon graduating from DHS, he pursued his passions and matriculated at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (“SLO”) with a B.A. in Music. At SLO, their slogan is “Learn by Doing.”

Davis Zamboanga, 2016 DHS Graduate and 2020 Graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Photo credit: Christian Cueto

A tradition that spans over two decades at Wells is the annual Winter Concert. It is an evening that is celebrated by featuring all elements of these sections: Symphonic, Concert, Jazz, Beginning and 6th Grade Band. But with a statewide Stay at Home order in place, might the Winter Concert be in jeopardy of occurring? Simply put, leave it to a former student, technology, and determination to not let this music tradition at Wells to wane.

When Davis returned to Dublin from college, he wanted to examine his options. A potential career in teaching music in schools might be possible and that would include acquiring a single or multiple subject teaching credential. An advanced degree could also be possible. Mr. Zamboanga took a proactive approach and reached out to longtime Wells teacher and band director, Erik Bertelson. They discussed the permutations of some form of internship or support of the band. They mutually agreed upon a role and the title of Teacher Assistant. We recently sat down with Davis and discussed his college experience and how he has been able to contribute to his former school. At the conclusion, we will share a special dedication that he made to a recently departed family member.

OneDublin.org: Upon graduating from DHS, you elected to pursue a degree in Music and matriculate at Cal Poly SLO. Tell us how you made these choices and share one meaningful experience from college.

Davis Zamoanga: “Ever since middle school I have been fascinated by the creative nature of music. From learning how to play piano at my grandparents’ house, to playing trombone throughout my secondary education, I developed a passion for music comparable to Joe Gardner’s from the Pixar film “Soul”—Yes, I have entered “the zone” many times before. My dream was, and is, to make music, so when college applications grew near, my good friend Riley Yarra helped me do research. Riley convinced me to apply to Cal Poly SLO since his brother had gone there, the San Luis Obispo area is beautiful, and he found an article listing their music department as a great place to study music. Once I was accepted, I chose to go there because the location was far enough away from home to feel independent, but still close enough for my family to come and visit me and it was the most cost-effective choice.

During my senior year of college, I was CEO of the Cal Poly Mustang Marching band. My responsibilities included creating bus lists and rosters, coordinating with directors, band officers, and campus entities to ensure smooth performances, and recruiting new members. We had planned to perform during Cal Poly’s Open House in April, but it was cancelled once San Luis Obispo County ordered a shelter-in-place in March. We were still determined to have the Mustang Band’s presence felt at the virtual Open House that was planned instead, so I learned how to use Adobe Premiere Pro and put together the school’s fight song, “Ride High, You Mustangs,” from members recording their parts remotely: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X71_tl_yhJg. This virtual performance was very well received by the campus community and working on it gave me the skills necessary to eventually produce the Wells Winter Concert.”

OneDublin.org: At the start of this academic school year, you approached Erik Bertelson about a potential internship with the music program. Please share how you both collaborated on a role for yourself and what do you plan to accomplish through the end of the school year.

Zamboanga: “Finishing my music degree online, I experienced the most detrimental effect that distance learning has had on music education: the disappearance of in-person musicmaking. Music teachers have had to rebuild their teaching toolkit completely online. I reached out to Mr. Bertelson about being his teacher assistant so that he could focus on teaching the students without having to worry about digitizing his teaching tools. We established that I would make musical resources to help him teach his classes over Zoom, produce a winter virtual concert, and coach him on using software such as Google Drive and Canvas. We meet once or twice a week after the school day to upload new resources and discuss how we can improve the student experience. Since Winter break, I have been working with Mr. Bertelson to integrate SmartMusic, a music learning software, into his virtual classroom. This web-based suite of music education tools promotes efficient practicing and helps Mr. Bertelson track the progress of his students. My end-of-the-year goal is for Mr. Bertelson to reach a technological proficiency that allows him to use Google Drive, Canvas, and SmartMusic mostly without my assistance.”

OneDublin.org: The Wells Winter Concert is a perennial event. Given that learning is through distance and large gatherings are not allowed, take us through the thought process/plan of delivering a positive online experience.

Zamboanga: “First, group accomplishment is an important part of an effective education, and since in-person concerts are not possible right now, the best way to simulate this is through a virtual concert where students get to be seen by their friends and family making music. This sense of accomplishment positively contributes to class morale and student retainment in the band program since there is a purpose – the virtual concert – to the process – class instruction. If there are no concerts and you are not making music together, why be in a band?

Second, if there is a virtual concert, there needs to be educational value in the process. With in-person rehearsals Mr. Bertelson could fix mistakes and shape an ensemble’s musical performance in real time. To reproduce this process, we had students submit multiple takes of the same piece. I would compile the earlier takes into a draft video, allowing Mr. Bertelson and the students to discuss areas of improvement such as rhythmic accuracy, tone, and intonation. By the final take, students sounded much better, meaning that they improved their individual musical performance after listening to themselves as an ensemble.

Lastly, virtual concerts, in the absence of in-person concerts, can inspire younger students to join band. In the Wells Winter concert, I grouped students by instrument—flutes with flutes, trumpets with trumpets, and percussion with percussion. This way younger students get a chance to see and hear what each group of instruments sound like.”

Wells Middle School Band members performing during the Winter Concert. Photo credit: Davis Zamboanga

OneDublin.org: For readers that may be unfamiliar with video editing, please explain how you tackled the rendering process and edify the amount of time that you invested.

Zamboanga: “The rendering process, where the edited clips are encoded—frame by frame—into a multimedia file, was the most difficult part of producing the virtual concert. With the personal computer that I was working on at the time, it took from ten to sixteen hours to render seven of the ten pieces in the concert—the other three were much more forgiving. I had not foreseen that this process would take this long, but I should have since some of the pieces had 56 layers of video. Even though one of my friends eventually let me borrow his MacBook to speed up the process, I had to postpone the concert by a week to finish everything. The main takeaway is to understand your technological limitations before you start a project. Thankfully, I have since built a personal computer that can handle this type of job.”

OneDublin.org: As an alumnus of Wells and the Roadrunner band program, articulate what it meant to give back and contribute to your former middle school.

Zamboanga: “In producing the virtual concert, I wanted students to experience the same magic that I felt when I performed in concerts at Wells. When all the videos are synchronized and the audio is mixed, it is enchanting to see and hear students performing as if they were in person. It gives us hope that one day, we will be able to have concerts in person again. I also wanted to give back to Mr. Bertelson, who gave me opportunities to develop my creative spirit, so that he can do the same for his current students.”

Wells Middle School Jazz Band performing during the Winter Concert. Photo credit: Davis Zamboanga

To experience the 2020 Wells Middle School Winter Concert, you can click this link: https://www.dublin.k12.ca.us/Page/16139

At the front end of the Wells Middle School Winter Concert, you will observe a slide dedicated to the memory of Karrie D. Carpenter – Davis’ aunt. Sadly, she passed away from Stage IV pancreatic cancer on December 10, 2020 while the final touches were being completed for the music project. The concert premiered the following day. Ms. Carpenter was a lifetime resident of Dublin and she was an alumna of Wells and Dublin High School. Her memorial website: https://karriecarpenter.com/

OneDublin.org would like to thank Davis Zamboanga for his willingness to share this tale and to recognize his unselfish spirit and his desire to maximize the band experience for the students and their families. The next project on tap will be the District-wide Music Concert.

“Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” ~ Pablo Casals, Spanish Cellist

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