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Music teacher hanging up the baton

After teaching music in the area for 34 years, Randy Gilpin will retire

Posted: March 24, 2013 10:17 p.m.
Updated: March 24, 2013 10:17 p.m.

Longtime local school band director Randy Gilpin stands in the music room at Rancho Pico Junior High School on Friday.

 

Randy Gilpin walked with a confident stride around the band room at Rancho Pico Junior High School on Friday.

This is his element, from his office, little more than a computer, chair and some filing cabinets, to the closet that holds the school’s library of musical arrangements, to the whiteboard where he writes out the musical notes for “The Stars and Stripes Forever” from memory.

The room has been Gilpin’s professional home for almost a decade. He’s the only band director Rancho Pico has ever known.

At the end of this year Gilpin will hang up the baton and officially retire after almost four decades teaching students to make music for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

And, he said, he wants to go out on a high note.

“This year is going really well,” Gilpin said. “And I’d just as soon end with a year that is going well.”

The current school year is but an exclamation point on a 34-year teaching career in the Hart district.


Background

Gilpin didn’t always see himself as a band director.

Entering the University of California, San Diego, in 1970 Gilpin majored in math, a subject in which he had excelled in high school.

After stressful days at school, he would come home to unwind, usually by breaking out the guitar or dusting off the trumpet — the instrument he has played since the fourth grade.

And that was when he realized what he really wanted to do with his life.

“The light bulb kind of came on at that point,” Gilpin said. “I figured why not study something I really enjoy?”

So Gilpin transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he graduated with a master’s degree in music in 1976.

Shortly after graduation, he married and took a job as band director at a high school in Ojai, a small town smack-dab in the middle of Ventura County.

Three years later he began a search for a bigger challenge — “I was looking for a place where I thought I could do more,” he said.

In 1979 he found that challenge, as well as a home for the next 25 years, at Canyon High School.


Memories

During those years he would touch the lives of many young musicians. Tomas Campuzano, a band student during Gilpin’s final year at Canyon, said he remembered Gilpin as a passionate and knowledgeable instructor.

“One of the reasons I still am interested in music is because of him,” said Campuzano, who is now 27.

Campuzano also said he remembered Gilpin’s extensive vocabulary, comparing listening during class to studying for the SAT.

Gilpin is well aware that sentiment.

“There have been times when I have to ask, ‘Do I need to say that again?’ and all the students nod,” Gilpin said, laughing. “I try to catch myself so what I say is not too complicated.”

Perhaps most memorable of the events during his years at Canyon High was the band trip to Dublin, Ireland, in 2000, Gilpin said. The marching band participated in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Canyon was named the best band in the parade, Gilpin said.

But during the nine-day trip, the band had several other performances, including some impromptu ones as they traveled around the country.

“There were many great days the kids had, many good performances on that trip,” Gilpin said. “That’s part of what makes it so memorable.”


Transition

As Rancho Pico Junior High School prepared to open its doors in 2004, Gilpin decided to leave the program he had helmed for a quarter century for much the same reason he took the job at Canyon: He was looking for a new challenge.

Rather than seeking out an established program, Gilpin said he was intrigued by the idea of building a program from scratch. He became Rancho Pico’s first band director.

And there were, indeed, new challenges.

“High school and middle school students really do a lot of things similarly,” Gilpin said. “But one area where they are hugely different is that many junior high students are just starting out, while high school students have played for several years.”

Still, one of the most important aspects of music is the same regardless of grade level, he said with a smile.

“The excitement and the joy of making music is still there.”

Robert Challinor, the superintendent of the Hart district, described Gilpin as a “wonderful and caring” teacher.

“His leadership and ability to reach young people have been greatly appreciated,” Challinor said.


Future

Just because Gilpin is ready to hang up the baton at Rancho Pico doesn’t mean he is completely departing the music field.

He will continue to judge band competitions as part of his position on the board of directors for the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association, where he oversees judging for band festivals.

But outside of music, Gilpin said he is looking forward to traveling, playing some golf and spending some time with his first grandchild.

“It’ll be a vacation,” Gilpin said. “So for the first few months of summer it won’t be all that different.”

“But then I’ll have to get used to not coming into school every day.”

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