(Editor’s note: Tom Faria is not only mayor of Los Banos, he has also served as a music instructor for the Los Banos Unified School District for the past 37 years, until his retirement last spring. These are his reflections of nearly four decades as a music educator.)
I arrived in Los Banos in fall of 1985, hired as vocal music instructor to assist the high school band director at that time, Gary Wulbern. I helped him with the band for three years.
I started the Los Banos High School choir my first year, added the Los Banos Junior High choir my second year and in my third year, I added a second advanced high school ensemble, A Cappella Choir.
Throughout my first 20 years or so, I also taught elementary band and choir districtwide. In the early 2000s, when the high school and junior high became more populous, I was assigned only to those two schools: 1-2 periods at the junior high and 3-4 periods at the high school, but after the construction of Pacheco High School, I went back to teaching elementary band and choir.
I didn’t grow up in the world of choral music so I had to learn much along the way. I attended every choral reading session, workshop, conference, and convention I could find to develop my skills as a choir director. I met many great people and musicians along the way and did my best to share all I learned from them with my students.
The first five years were building process, which included developing singers in the elementary and junior high schools to ultimately prepare them for the advanced work at the high school.
We usually performed 3-4 concerts per year, along with many civic events, and two or three performance festivals throughout the region. We used leftover uniforms at that time
In 1994, we raised enough money to purchase tuxedoes and formals for the A Cappella Choir. We used these red formals for two years, then went to black dresses. In 2004, we purchased black and white formals which we used until my retirement.
Our junior high choir performed every year for the Korean War Memorial Ceremony at the Santa Nella National Cemetery. In later years volunteer singers from high school choirs joined us as well.
In 1996, we performed Handel’s Messiah with a professional orchestra a at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. The event was so successful that people who had attended (more than 500) were calling in to local radio stations to compliment the students. Performances of Messiah became a biennial event for the choir, alternating with other holiday programs.
In 1998 a group of dedicated students requested that we form a very advanced chamber choir. That added a third choir to the high school program and we began the annual choir tour to the San Luis Obispo Choral Festival, which would also include singing in Hearst Castle and at the local missions in the area. This tour remained in place until 2020, when the COVID-19 shutdown caused it to end.
We were charter participants in the Stanislaus State Choral Festival and sang there every year but one from the early 90s through 2019. This festival, too, was shut down, because of COVID-19.
Although the focus of the program was never competition, over the years, the choirs received numerous accolades, including many excellent awards, two Outstanding Choir of the Festival in San Luis Obispo, and one Unanimous Superior in Santa Cruz.
I always focused the program on inclusion, trying to give as many students as possible the opportunity to sing quality musical literature as beautifully as possible. Before the construction of Pacheco High School, I had 175 students in three choirs. It took three busses to transport them!
In my last year, we established an all-county honor choir through the Merced County Education Foundation and the Merced Office of Education.
About 20 years ago, I was hired an adjunct professor to teach music history, piano, choir, and guitar for Merced College, Los Banos Campus. Most of this assignment has been jazz and popular music history.
I have always very much enjoyed these classes, as I can talk about the art, culture, history and even the business of music. I plan to continue in that role as adjunct professor. I am also looking forward to the extra time in retirement I will have to play and sing in college music ensembles in the region.