2012-06-14 / Schools
Music director in tune with students
The third-, fourth- and fifthgraders at Meadows Arts and Technology Elementary School in Thousand Oaks are just days away from performing “Annie” in front of a room full of parents, and the show’s director is doing everything he can to keep their focus.
“Alright guys, we’re going to rehearse the last scene!” LaGuardia says as he claps a rhythm to get his students’ attention, and they clap back enthusiastically.
The youngsters sing “Tomorrow,” the musical’s signature number, multiple times while LaGuardia stands before them, helping them with their moves and giving encouraging pointers each step of the way.
“I really like doing it,” La- Guardia said. “My free time goes into doing these spring musicals. I love the experience with kids when they come out with confidence in themselves. Many of my students are super talented; I want to be an inspiration to them.”
LaGuardia, 38, has been the full-time music director at MATES for the past three years, teaching band and choir courses. In fact, LaGuardia said, he’s the only full-time music teacher at the elementary school level in Ventura County. For 12 years previously, he taught music courses part-time in the district.
“Frank has an amazing way with students. Not much rattles him,” said Brenda Priske, executive director at MATES. “He is very positive with the students, and he makes music fun.”
To date, LaGuardia has directed 10 Broadway-style musical shows at MATES, always with the help of a strong family support system.
His wife, Dawn, creates the programs and tickets, and handles the financial aspects of the show, while his mother-inlaw, Robin Alegria, makes the costumes. Parents of his students contribute as well, helping with costumes and building sets.
“Frank is the most positive, sweet, sincere guy and is so good with the kids,” said Sydney Jablonowski, a Thousand Oaks resident and mother of six, four of whom attend MATES. “He shows each and every student the most respect that I have ever seen any adult give a child, let alone the hundreds of children that he inspires daily.”
Most parents at the rehearsal for “Annie” praised LaGuardia for his infinite patience with the young learners.
It’s all about staying positive, said LaGuardia, who has a 4-year-old daughter.
“If you don’t stress them out, they’ll be confident. It’s all about trying your best.”
The teacher’s passion for music began early, when he was a youngster growing up in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
The Bakersfield native said he was first influenced by music in third grade, when a man visiting his school came by with instruments for the students to try.
LaGuardia picked up the trumpet and immediately fell in love with it. From then on, he participated in his school’s band and choir all the way through college. He studied at Cal State Northridge, where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree with an emphasis in trumpet performance.
Shortly after graduating from college 1998, LaGuardia began giving private music lessons in Thousand Oaks. The mother of one of his students recommended he teach music to her child’s fourth-grade class at Ladera Elementary School, where he taught for one year.
“I really liked the fact that I was able to be the first one to open the children’s eyes to music,” LaGuardia said. “For a lot of them, this was their first experience with classical music and I wanted to make it positive for them if they wanted to continue doing it in their lives.”
Since that time, LaGuardia has shared his love of music with thousands of students across the Conejo Valley.
Now, in addition to his responsibilities at MATES, he teaches two after-school music programs at Westlake Elementary School.
For the past eight years, the music director has helped put on the All District Chorus Festival at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza—four nights of performances by elementary, middle and high school students in the Conejo Valley.
And he teaches a general music education class at California Lutheran University.
During the summer, La- Guardia is involved with the Hillcrest Players, music camp participants who, after a fourweek session, stage a production at Thousand Oaks High School’s performing arts center.
The versatile LaGuardia occasionally performs with the Conejo Valley Brass Quintet and the San Fernando Valley Symphony. He also works as a DJ at weddings.
“I have always loved performing. I love the exhilaration you get playing in front of live audiences,” LaGuardia said.
Although music is a huge part of LaGuardia’s life, his wife and their 4-year-old daughter, Anna, are his first loves.
“We play piano, soccer and just do fun activities together,” LaGuardia said of his daughter. “I get the joy of experiencing things through her eyes, from going to Disneyland for the first time or maybe a Broadway show.”
He also plans to coach Anna’s soccer team this year.
As for the future, LaGuardia’s dream is to build a worldclass music program at MATES so his daughter will have wonderful opportunities when she arrives.
“I hope that she can get involved in some aspect of the arts because it’s something we can share together and remember,” LaGuardia said. “It’s about building memories.”
LaGuardia said the performances of “Annie” at MATES were a huge success, with every show sold out.
“They were all amazing. To see a lot of these kids that were shy in class, then you put them on the stage and they just blossom,” he said.
“A lot of parents were impressed that they were smiling, having fun and becoming the characters.”