Together in Harmony

Every weekday in 92127, students are developing talent and finding their voices at Oak Valley Middle School (OVMS). Over 650 students participate in the school’s band, choir, and orchestra classes. There are opportunities for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders of all experience levels to explore the world of music, both in the classroom and onstage. It’s a chance to build both skill and confidence, as well as learning to work together to create magic with their classmates. 92127 Magazine spoke with music directors Liliana Lazzari, Mark Nowak, and Rebecca Fallentine to learn more.

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Q&A with Liliana Lazzari, Orchestra Director

cover6What music classes and programs do you teach?
Currently I teach sixth grade orchestra, seventh and eighth grade advanced orchestra, and the seventh grade sinfonia.

What is your professional background, and what sparked your interest in working with middle school students?
I started teaching band and orchestra 18 years ago when I was finishing my master’s degree in Fresno. I had already been teaching music for seven years before that as a private flute teacher and sectional coach in Poway. I taught all levels of music from general music with kindergarten students to college freshman. It was a great learning experience. I knew I enjoyed teaching middle school and high school the best, and when I moved back up to the San Diego area in 2005 I started teaching at Westview and Black Mountain Middle. When the opportunity came in 2006 to teach full-time band and orchestra at OVMS, I was elated. I love the middle school age group and really enjoy my interactions with them.

What has been the most rewarding part of your role? The most challenging?
I love seeing the improvement and maturing that happens during middle school. The kids come in mostly as beginners or with just one year of experience and they grow so much so fast. It’s just incredible to watch. That process is both the most rewarding and challenging part of my job.

How has the program grown or evolved over the years?
I started teaching at OVMS the second year that the school was open. I had three bands and two orchestras when I started. By the next year, we added a jazz band and a symphony orchestra class. By the third year, the program grew to about 400 kids and the school hired a second band and orchestra teacher. It was great growth for the program. We fluctuated in size since that time, but our program has grown to over 450 in band and orchestra and 200 in choir this year. We’ve added a second jazz band and a second symphony orchestra class and now have three choir classes.

Are there any upcoming performances the community should look forward to?
On Nov. 1, the seventh/eighth grade advanced orchestra will be doing a joint concert with Del Norte High School (DNHS) at 7 p.m. And on Dec. 20 we will be having our winter concert at DNHS, also at
7 p.m. We will be performing in the DNHS theater.

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How many performances do you put on a year?
I look to have at least three formal evening performances for all the students to participate in during the school year. I try for one in December, one in March, and one in May, with the May performance being our Gala Concert at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. The seventh and eighth grade orchestra students also have a joint concert with DNHS close to Halloween every year where they dress in costume. In January or February, we do a joint rehearsal with San Diego State University. Additionally, we have informal concerts that occur during the school day where we invite parents and students to watch. In April, we go to the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association Festival at Poway High School, where students perform in front of a panel of adjudicators and receive comments on how to improve their performance.

How can the community help support music at OVMS?
Come to our concerts!

Do you have any favorite memories or experiences from your time at OVMS?
We used to put on a benefit concert every year that featured the jazz band and orchestra and spotlighted student soloists. It was my favorite event every year. The kids always surprised me with their level of expertise and the unusual instruments they played outside of the program.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Currently my orchestra is working on the Halloween joint concert with DNHS. We are excited to be playing the music from Psycho and several other fun pieces.


Liliana Lazzari | At-A-Glance

Position: Orchestra Director
Education: M.A. in Music Performance
Community: Talmadge
Hobbies & Interests: Reading and my family and pets
Favorite Places in 92127: Edelweiss Bakery, RB Inn, Bernardo Winery, Webb Park


Q&A with Mark Nowak, Band and Orchestra Director

cover5What music classes and programs do you teach?
I teach four periods of band, one of string orchestra, one full orchestra, and one jazz band.

What is your professional background, and what sparked your interest in working with middle school students?
I began teaching jazz improvisation and directing jazz ensembles as a graduate assistant at the University of Georgia. As music assistant at Twin Peaks Middle School, I realized that teaching middle school is where I want to be.

What has been the most rewarding part of your role? The most challenging?
Working with students for all three years of middle school is most rewarding – helping them to grow as human beings and musicians. The most frustrating part of my job is not being able to give each student the individual attention that they deserve.

How has the program grown or evolved over the years?
This is my fifth year at OVMS. During that time, band participation has increased from a little over 200 students to almost 300 this year. I’ve incorporated many new educational opportunities such as side-by-side clinics with Dr. Kitelinger and his students at San Diego State, performances in the 4S community like Little League opening day and both Stone Ranch Elementary and OVMS Foundation fundraisers, and performances outside the community in San Francisco and the San Diego County Fair.

Are there any upcoming performances the community should look forward to?
Our biggest and best concert of the year is at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. This year’s concert is Saturday, May 12 at 3 p.m. We play challenging music in a performing arts hall to give our students the opportunity to play at the most professional level possible.

How many performances do you put on a year?
Between my seven ensembles, it’s somewhere around 20 to 30 concerts a year.

Is there any way the community can help support music at OVMS?
I am humbled and honored by the support I get from parents, students, and the community. As parents, continue to advocate for the importance of music education in our district!

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Do you have any favorite memories or experiences from your time at OVMS?
Performing on stage at San Francisco Symphony Hall with my current students while the Poway High Choir students (who were my students at Twin Peaks) cheered us on!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I start each class by saying “Welcome to the best part of your day.” I sincerely hope it is the best part of their school day as a time to learn, play, communicate, and have fun!

Mark Nowak | At-A-Glance

Position: Band Director
Education: B.A., University of Rochester; M.M., University of Georgia
Community: Peñasquitos
Hobbies & Interests: Losing bets to students and then dyeing my hair
Favorite Places in 92127: Flippin’ Pizza and Donut Touch


Q&A with  Rebecca Fallentine, Choir Director

cover4What music classes and programs do you teach?
I am the choir director; I teach two sixth grade choir classes and one seventh and eighth choir. I also teach sixth grade science.

What is your professional background and what sparked your interest in working with middle school students?
I am not your typical music teacher: my major in college was history; my master’s degree was in Middle School Science Education (National Board Certification); and I have taught math, science, social studies, and language arts to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. I minored in music, and this is my 12th year at OVMS!

Even though my first teaching assignment was in high school history, I have always loved music. I was involved in every music ensemble possible in high school. Now, I sing in a professional choir, Millennial Choirs and Orchestra, which has recorded many albums and toured all over the United States.

I have always wanted to be a teacher! When I was young, I saved all of my school assignments, notes, and projects with the hope of using them as a resource as a teacher. After teaching all ages from toddlers to adolescents, it was obvious to me that middle school was my niche.

What has been the most rewarding part of your role? The most challenging?
Concerts are always a payday for me. I take a lot of pride in the quality of music my students produce and the joy in their faces as they show the audience that they are proud of their work, too. Hearing them sing with confidence and sweetness is a little slice of heaven!

Perhaps the most challenging part of my role is the nitty-gritty rehearsals when I demand students get a specific timbre or type of articulation, the correct shape of a vowel, accurate rhythm, etc. I’m picky and the kids know it! They like the results, but the process is met with some resistance. These challenges become easier with a very patient and talented accompanist, Ms. YunJin Kim.

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How has the program grown or evolved over the years?
When I was hired at OVMS, there was no choir program, and I thought it was a shame! I volunteered to teach one class of choir, but the elective was only available to a small group of students. As the interest increased, I was lucky enough to have administrators that supported the program. Mr. Currigan and all of our administration supports the music program, and that is a huge part of its success. What was once a choir of 20 has grown into three full sections of choir students. We are very lucky – not all middle schools have a choir program.

Are there any upcoming performances the community should look forward to?
Our holiday concert is Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the OVMS MPR. We also will have our big Spring Gala at the Escondido Performing Arts center on May 12, 2018.

How many performances do you put on a year? What type of productions do you generally put on?
It is usually between 6 and 10 concerts a year. Each concert has a different focus, and some recent themes have been: A Disney-ish Halloween, A Tribute to Jazz, and Regards to Broadway. We have also performed many classical pieces, many of which have been in foreign languages from German and Swahili to Latin and Italian and more. I believe middle school kids can sing the classics, and well! I frequently try to hire instrumentalists to accompany the choir for variety and the enriching experience of collaborating with other musicians.

Is there any way the community can help support music at OVMS?
Future fantasy – building a performing arts center for our school and community. Our student population and audience have outgrown our facilities, and we frequently rent venues for our concerts and are at their whim for concert dates.

Ongoing request – join the Oak Valley Music Boosters and offer your time and talents! We have been very lucky to have a very active Music Boosters who have been very supportive of our needs.

Do you have any favorite memories or experiences from your time at OVMS?
I love running into students from previous years and hearing about their lives and successes. I have watched hundreds of my students grow from awkward middle school children into mature and contributing adults – seeing them progress is the best part of my job!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Teaching Oak Valley kids is a privilege and honor!


Rebecca Fallentine | At-A-Glance

Position: Choir Director/Sixth Grade Science Teacher
Education: B.S., Secondary Education in Social Science, Minor in Music; Master’s Degree, Middle School Science Education
Community: Rancho Bernardo
Hobbies & Interests: Volunteering for local church, singing professionally, directing manager for Millennial Choirs and Orchestra, lifting weights, running marathons, doing yoga, and hiking mountains!
Favorite Places in 92127: Road leading to Black Mountain (love that view), Rubios,
LA Fitness, Yoga Six, Chick-Fil-A, Target