San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District’s Music Director Carey Liston knows the show must go on.
Despite rapid-fire setbacks for her band members ranging from elementary to high school students, Liston has somehow managed to not only maintain her current ledger of students but expand it.
After returning from a trip to Southern California that vaulted her collection of musicians onto a statewide stage, Liston’s group is readying itself for an upcoming performance at Roaring Camp on April 27.
“This year has been great. I’m so happy to be back in the classroom and performing music with kids,” Liston said. “Online instruction was tough. When we returned to in-person learning, to keep everyone safe, we wore special instrument face masks and wore bell covers over our instruments. SLV has done a wonderful job of testing our students for Covid weekly. I feel supported by our district. We received everything we needed to keep us safe during this crazy time.”
Liston started as the general music and beginning band director for the San Lorenzo Valley elementary schools in 2012. During the 2019-20 school year, Liston transitioned to being the director for the middle and high school music program, and that’s when Covid hit.
“In 2012, the high school band had just nine kids. I worked with the previous band director to create a feeder program that would boost our numbers,” Liston said. “Since then, our numbers have continued to rise.”
In 2018 the high school band had 44 students, and the fifth-grade band had 68, Liston said.
“Even during Covid and online learning, I was able to retain students,” she said. “My students took another hit emotionally during the CZU fire when our entire school community was evacuated and some of our music families lost their homes.”
During the 2021-22 school year, student enrollment for the high school band increased to 60, requiring the district to open a second high school band section. Next year, Liston is anticipating the same level of enrollment. In addition, Liston oversees the high school choir, where enrollment remains consistent at 19 students.
“We are hoping to grow our choral program in the coming years,” Liston said.
The recent group trip to Los Angeles, says Liston, did a lot to incentivize her students to remain active in the band. She highlighted the mental and physical resilience of her band members, and the power of music that she believes draws kids to the troupe.
“Performing music requires incredible brain power—the longer you play, your brain develops differently. It strengthens reasoning and language development, it instills self-discipline and allows for creative thinking and problem-solving,” Liston said. “It teaches us to constantly improve our work, to think critically and deeply. In today’s job market, classes in the arts are crucial to develop our creativity and our ability to problem solve as a team. But most importantly music allows us to connect—with our fellow peers and ourselves. We have a strong sense of community in our music family. Every student feels they belong and are valued. Playing music allows us to express our emotions and is a lifelong skill that feeds our social and emotional well-being.”
Liston’s musical troupe is equally passionate about their role in the band.
“It was incredibly challenging trying to stay motivated and continuing to practice during Covid, especially coming from a family of musicians,” said junior Tatiana Tashjian. “However, since we’ve come back in person, I’ve fallen in love with music and performing all over again.”
Freshman Louis Kressman also said it was challenging “to practice at home during online learning.”
“It was fairly difficult to find time to do stuff,” Kressman said. “The most rewarding part was when we finally performed and it felt like showing off, it was pretty cool.”
Freshman Abigale Krepelka said that lessons learned from participating in the band transcend the instrument. Like Kressman, Krepelka said she gained a the valuable skill of time management.
“It was difficult at first to find true motivation for schoolwork, but I think that now I have become stronger in that suit, even back in person,” Krepelka said.
For others, music serves as a driving force to become more outgoing.
“The most challenging part of being involved in music is getting over yourself. Getting over your fear of messing up in front of people, the mental blocks that make you want to quit and give up, and fears of not meeting the expectations that your teacher and peers have for you,” said senior Lily Bartz. “However, without these things, my reward would mean so much less. After months of intense practice inside and outside of the classroom, the final note of the performance when we all freeze and look at our teacher and feel the pride from everyone is a feeling that I’ve never felt anywhere else; it is the best feeling in the world.”
For those wanting to share in that feeling, join the SLV band at Roaring Camp’s music and art festival on April 27 at 5pm. The event is free to the public, and will include performances by SLV’s elementary, middle, high school bands, choir and jazz groups. There will be a silent auction to raise money for the band program, and food trucks will be on-site. To donate to the SLV music program, visit slvmusic.org.