Published on March 11th, 2020 | by Marcile Montoya
Reaching and Inspiring Youth in Los Angeles
An interview with Franklin F. Gómez, Ecuadorian-American musician and educator
Franklin F. Gómez graduated from California State University, Northridge where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education, with cum laude and music honors, and a Masters degree in Instrumental Conducting with an emphasis in Wind and Band. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Education from Boston University. Mr. Gomez was the Music Director at various schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District and is now an Instructional Supervisor at Education Through Music Los Angeles, where he is “honored and thrilled in being part of the mission and vision of giving children the opportunity of hope and success through a well-rounded music education.”
Apuntes: Franklin, you were born in Los Angeles, grew up in South Pasadena. Your parents are from Ecuador. What were the highlights and maybe some of the challenges you overcame through high school?
FG: Some of the highlights? Definitely music. Because music has allowed me to connect with classmates, the environment and the culture of the school. Because through music I was able to perform in front of the high school in multiple ways, whether it was through a field show, or the band or an assembly or a concert. And then sports were the other big part of my life in high school because, again, it enabled me or allowed me to connect with other peers in school. One of my challenges would be learning, because it took me a while to learn how to properly study. I think that, now as an educator, I understand the challenges a lot better. When I was in high school no one really took the time to understand the kind of learner I was, or I . . . it was also hard for the teachers, because I wasn’t quite open. I was a little bit shy, or on the shy side with teachers. It wasn’t until my senior year when I finally learned how to efficiently study and comprehend what I was reading or studying. That was one of my biggest challenges. Until my senior year, I hadn’t learned how to properly write an essay. I mean, that was just the beginning. It was like I had an “ahah” moment, like Oh!
Apuntes: During that time, you were a member of the California Junior Philharmonic.
FG: I was a member of the California Junior Philharmonic in my college years. From my freshman through my junior years of college.
Apuntes: Was there someone influential who helped direct your musical path?
FG: I would say my grandfather. My grandfather is the one whom I admired since I was five, because he would always play the piano with me – sat me on his lap and played for me, and then I just grew up with him always playing the piano, the guitar. Then I had heard that he also played the violin, which I never saw him play, but I heard stories that he was the leader of his orchestra, he was first chair violinist, he was known around his town in Ecuador. So that’s where my passion began. Then, my dad, in junior high nourished my passion for music when he asked me if I’d like to learn an instrument. That’s where it began.
Apuntes: Did either of them introduce you to the Philharmonic, or how did you find out about that?
FG: My joining the California Junior Philharmonic came about when I was already in college. My high school band director, Mr. Crawford, reached out to me. I can’t recall if it was a phone call or an email. He asked me if I would be interested in auditioning for the Philharmonic in Downtown, Los Angeles. I qualified because to be in the Junior Philharmonic you have to be between the ages of 17 (or is it 18?), and 25 or 26. I went in and auditioned – I was so nervous – but once I auditioned I was told I was in right away.
Apuntes: What instrument did you play?
FG: Alto Saxophone.
Apuntes: Is that your preferred instrument?
Apuntes: Did you know through your college years that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
FG: I knew that by the time – yes, to answer your question, yes. I changed my specialty once, because I was going to be . . . I was in route my first few years in music performance, then I decided to make a little bit of money and found a teaching job. I fell in love with music education and helping students. That’s when I was like, okay, I’m switching my major in my junior year and then went from there.
“I fell in love with music education and helping students”
Apuntes: And you were able to still graduate in a timely manner?
FG: Yeah. So junior year is the year you have to figure out which way you are going – because the first two years is all common classes – general education – even for music students, it’s the same: first two years of piano, first two years of music theory. Everyone shares the same music courses. It’s your last two years where you specialize – okay, are you going to be taking more performance classes, more ensembles, or are you going to be taking pedagogy, which I did, on music education, musical psychology, child psychology, choral conducting, and so on.
Apuntes: And you feel like you made the right choice?
FG: I did then, and I still do.
Apuntes: Good for you. Did you get your master’s degree after completing the teaching credential, or did you take some time between degrees?
FG: I took time. I finished my teaching credential, let’s see, by 2007, and I didn’t come back to – because I was already teaching at the high school and I kind of wanted to get on my feet, established, at the high school, which was within a mile/a mile and a half away from my university (CSUN). I came back for my master’s in 2009 . . . sorry, 2010. Yeah, it took a little over 3 years.
Apuntes: And you served as Music Director for the Los Angeles Unified School District during those 3 years?
FG: Yes, I started that in 2007. That’s when I started as the Director at LA Unified.
Apuntes: What was your experience like there?
FG: When I first came in, I was only 24 years old, and the music program at this high school – at James Monroe High School, which is part of LA Unified School District – had 12 members. That was the entire music department: the marching band, the concert band, that was it. I came in and started teaching beginning band and beginning string orchestra. Within five years, the marching band grew from 12 to 71. Then I started a jazz band, which had been dormant for over 50 years. And I kept the same name, the Big Red Jazz Band. I had a string orchestra, advanced string orchestra, concert band, two beginning bands and an intermediate band, two beginning string orchestras and one intermediate string orchestra, a drumline, plus teaching my first year of color guard, because I didn’t have a color guard coach. Luckily, I learned some skills at CSUN, in my 3rd or 4th year I took marching band techniques and learned color guard moves, just the basics to at least survive, and that’s what happened. So that program went from 12 to about 263 members in five years. To this day (I am no longer there), it continues to be a large and successful program.
Apuntes: And you were with LA Unified for 10 years?
FG: Yes, 10 years. I retired from LA Unified and was not active in teaching for two years. I felt I needed a different challenge, needed something new. And then I found my new job, which just started this past August, which I love, love, love doing.
Apuntes: And what is that job?
FG: Education through Music Los Angeles – an Instructional Supervisor, more precisely an Instrumental Instructional Supervisor.
Apuntes: Why is this program important to you ?
FG: It’s important because, not only do I help new teachers establish their routines, their procedures as new teachers, I also support them. I teach them how to become more effective teachers, whether it’s through classroom management or through helping them through their lessons or helping them pick the repertoire for their winter/spring concert or whatever event. Indirectly, I also help grow the music program for schools that cannot afford to have music programs, cannot even, the thought is not even a priority. So our nonprofit organization, Education through Music Los Angeles, puts in a music program in Title 1 schools from the beginning, whatever the earliest grade may be, kinder or pre-k all the way to the last grade – could be 5th or could be 8th depending on the school, so it’s comprehensive and sequential. Everyone in that school is getting a music program. And we help them by providing the teacher, resources and tools, the instruments. We equip them with everything. Now the point is for us to start them with everything and help them become independent and carry their program on their own. So little by little we go to 50/50 and so on, and less until eventually they can . . . our goal is for each school to have – currently we have 34 schools throughout LA Unified, Compton, Burbank, Pasadena, Altadena – the goal is for each school to be able to take on the teacher, pay them their regular salary or whatever rate they want to pay them, and that’s our measure of success. The goal is for us to be out of business, but that’s almost impossible because there’s always a new school in LA that needs a music program.
Apuntes: Does that include charter schools?
FG: Yes, charter schools as well as parochial schools and public schools, so every school. We’re just entering the middle school stage. We’ve been through some elementary schools that have grown into middle schools, and this coming year we are targeting middle schools.
Apuntes: You mentioned teacher salaries. LA Unified School District was in the news recently as thousands of educators went on strike for six days. Do you anticipate that the new settlement agreement will impact music education?
FG: I do, and I hope for the better. The strike also impacted Education through Music Los Angeles, because a lot of our teachers teach in the LA Unified School District, and in order for them to build unity with the LA Unified teachers, some of them abstained from attending classes. They were not necessarily at the picket lines, but they were at our offices, building lesson plans. Some decided to go ahead and teach, it was up to the teacher how to build that relationship with the other teachers and staff at those specific schools. I hope one of the strike’s impacts is that music programs will not be viewed as a secondary subject. Music should be part of the core program, and there are a lot of studies that support that argument.
FG: Yeah. Because we as music educators always include STEAM, which is Science, Technology, English, Art and Mathematics so when we teach a certain lesson, we always associate. For instance, here’s a good example: Whenever we play a piece of music there’s always an introduction which we call the exposition, there’s always the middle part, which is the development, then we have the conclusion which would be the recapitulation. So in English when you build an essay, you would have the introduction which is the exposition in music, we have the body paragraph which would be the development of the music where it’s developed into the thoughts and kind of like all the ideas, and we have the conclusion which is the recapitulation of all that has been played. So that is just a small example of how I associate.
FG: Breath marks would be commas in English, etc. So you’re always . . . a good music teacher will always do that not only with English, but with Science – the physics of music – in Math, with fractions, Social Studies – with geography. Where is this music from? Where is it on a map? Culturally, what does it mean? What are the values of that? So we’re always enriching.
Apuntes: Interesting. You’ve been with this program since August 2018?
FG: August 7th, 2018, yeah.
Apuntes: My understanding is you also applied and were accepted to a doctoral program?
FG: I did, yes. I’m currently on my second year.
Apuntes: And where is this at?
FG: Because I work and live in LA, I’m doing it online at Boston University. I’m doing it there but I’m doing my practices and my teaching on Saturdays through a partnership with the University of Southern California (USC).
Apuntes: Interesting. What is that like?
FG: My Saturdays or my education? My Saturdays is where I teach and I implement music education for teachers who want to pursue a master’s degree in music education with pedagogy, classroom behavior at the collegiate level instead of elementary through high school, k-12, it’s more collegiate level. That’s pretty much it.
Apuntes: What was the application process like?
FG: First was the application – paper application/online application. Then it was the three steps – phone interview then there was the video interview. Three were going to be chosen to be outside of Boston then the rest of the class was going to be live in Boston. I was lucky enough to be one of the chosen ones to be not in the class and I was awarded a full scholarship for that program.
Apuntes: Congratulations! Are there other Hispanic/Latinos in this field? Do you think culture and race play out in a certain way in the world of music?
FG: I think . . . I do. The way it plays out, I would say in a positive way, is where we bring out the Hispanic culture or the Latino culture into our teaching whether it’s through music – culturally where we pick our repertoire and introduce it to our students and explain the background because you need to understand the culture of Latinos or Hispanics in order to teach whether it’s the rhythm or subtleties and that has to be the predecessor before you actually teach a lesson whether it’s in general music, whether it’s in instrumental music, any of those.
Apuntes: How do you think race and culture play out in education? Are there any Hispanic/Latinos in your doctoral program?
FG: There were only two, including myself. I think now there are more Latinos/Hispanics applying for higher education degrees, like masters. But the issue is not necessarily getting a college education. As I supervise the schools/areas that we service, I notice that the demographics include many Hispanics and Blacks, who are not privileged financially and lack support from home. And that might limit how far they can go. Our goal is to go in there and nourish them and make them aware of other possibilities. Maybe they’re not going to become a music major; maybe that’s just something to help them through their schooling; pretty much an excuse or motivation to come back to school and be excited about something to come to school for.
Apuntes: It sounds like education has always been important to you. Would you attribute that to your father and grandfather?
FG: I would say both of my parents. My parents are divorced. My mom raised me physically in the same house from the day I was born until junior high. My dad, once I moved in with my dad at the age of about 11.5, they were both highly involved in my education. They were always attending parent meetings, checking my homework, pushing me to go do bigger and better things, had me involved in extracurricular things – not only music, but sports, martial arts, swimming. Always busy, always busy because a busy mind is kept away from bad habits.
Apuntes: In closing, what advice would you share with this next generation of Hispanic/Latinos?
FG: I want to take a moment to think about this.
Apuntes: Sure, take your time.
FG: Get yourself involved in any extracurricular activity. Get your parents involved in supporting you whatever you do and have the parents be constantly involved even when, as a teenager of the next generation they’re always saying, “Please don’t show up to my school because you’re going to embarrass me.” You know that teenage period. It’s necessary and so important for every parent to always be part of every child’s growth and development – as a child, as a teenager as a young adult. Because if everyone has a parent who is involved in their life, it’s going to just be a better tomorrow for everyone else and more prepared specifically for Hispanics and Latinos in America, in the United States, or anywhere.
Apuntes: And I would even venture to say that could even be a grandparent or another close family member.
FG: Yeah. Right, exactly. I agree.