TPHS music program begins year strong amid class cuts

The TPHS Music Department started the year strong with their Oct. 19 concert, despite the Choir and Guitar courses being cut in May 2023 due to low enrollment in the 2023-24 course selection process, reducing the number of classes provided through the music department from five to three.

Despite the consistent success of the three music classes still offered at TPHS — Orchestra, Band and Jazz Band — this decrease in the number of music courses offered at TPHS has caused TPHS Music Director Amy Gelb to split her time 60-40 between TPHS and San Dieguito Academy, remaining a full- time employee of the district. This year, Gelb teaches Orchestra first period, then Jazz Band and Band second and third period, respectively. At SDA, she teaches one period of AP Music Theory, and next semester she will teach one period of Musical Instrument Digital Interface Composition.

The scheduling shift has led some parents and students to worry about the future of the TPHS Music Department.

“I agree that we should have a well-rounded music program that has something for everyone,” Gelb said. “But I want to make it very clear that losing the Choir and Guitar classes had zero impact on the strength of the Orchestra, Band and Jazz Band classes.”

This year, there are 24 students in Orchestra, 21 in Jazz Band and 27 in Band.

Caden Jiang (12), a violinist in Orchestra, agreed with Gelb.

“[Orchestra, Jazz Band and Band] aren’t classes you just take for one year … Most of the people I know have been in the music department since freshman [year],” Jiang said.

The Choir and Guitar courses have historically had difficulty maintaining high enrollment levels; in recent years enrollment numbers have declined, indicating flagging interest. According to Assistant Principal Robert Shockney, in 2019, Guitar and Choir had enrollments of 38 and 24 students, declining in 2022 to 17 students enrolled in Guitar and 12 in Choir.

“Last year, the state [gave us more class sections] … [essentially, the state is] giving districts money, and sometimes it can be used for staffing. So last year, that’s part of how I covered Guitar and Choir … using some of those funds,” Principal Rob Coppo said.

In the course selection for 2023-24 school year, as of April 22, 10 students had enrolled in Guitar, and nine in Chorus.

“When the numbers [for Choir and Guitar] were down again, that’s when I shifted those [funds] to other areas,” Coppo said. “And they had a need at SDA, so it ended up working out that Ms. Gelb could support the music program there and still stay here. Is that ideal? No. But ultimately, all the district has to do is make sure she has a job.”

Some students and parents, however, have expressed concerns about what the decrease in music sections, or classes, at TPHS could mean for the future of the music department.

“You do worry a little bit that if people have a choice of a school with a music presence 100% versus a music presence less than 100%, [that] maybe that will affect the choice,” Music Parent Liaison President Chris Day said. “So I guess my concern is that maybe one of the other schools will end up being the music school and then Torrey Pines will get weaker and weaker over a period of time … not immediately, but I’m looking long term.”

Morgan Robitaille (12), a violinist in Orchestra, agreed.

“When [middle schoolers] see that Torrey Pines doesn’t have a huge, well- rounded music department, they’re probably going to shy away and go to a different school,” Robitaille said.

These concerns in mind, Day wrote a petition entitled “TPHS Students Need a Full Time Music Teacher,” on May 23 in response to Gelb’s scheduling change. The petition was addressed to Supt. Anne Staffieri, as well as school board members and Coppo.

“The [hope] of the petition was to give [TPHS] more money to play with or make it so the school district could be more supportive of [music programs],” Day said. “Every high school should have a music teacher.”

TPHS does not require a full-time teacher in any subject, whether it be an elective or a core class. Similarly, neither SDA nor La Costa Canyon High School has a full-time music teacher.

Classes like Guitar and Choir — general interest electives — are offered across the district. SDA offers AP Music Theory and MIDI Composition courses, Guitar, Instrumental Music and Wind Ensemble. LCC has sections of Guitar and MIDI Composition in support of their Band class. Canyon Crest Academy, a campus with three full-time music teachers, offers Orchestra, Jazz, Rock, Wind, Symphonic, Chorus/Vocal, Recording Arts and Digital Music in addition to their Music Conservatory, an intensive after-school program.

“I think there’s value in offering classes that would be enriching for students … [and] in reaching students beyond the band classroom,” SDA Music Director, Jeremy Wuertz, said. Looking to the future, next year’s TPHS music department offerings are unknown.

According to Coppo, he “would be surprised” if Chorus and Guitar were on the course selection for 2024-25.

“Next year is not up to me,” Gelb said. “It all depends on the number of sections that are allowed at TP … It all comes down to how many students enroll in the classes and the number of sections that the administration decides to run.”

As for now, Gelb is confident in her students.

“Many things have changed in 19 years since we’ve opened multiple new schools in the district since I started at TP. The one thing that has remained constant is that we have many talented and motivated students who continue to amaze me year after year,” Gelb said.

photos by Anna Opalsky/Falconer

Previous post Students are justified when they pass on the pass
Next post Visual arts on display in two student showcases