The 2016 CCEF teacher of the year at CCHS is Dr. Tony Spano. In his 18th year at CCHS, Dr. Spano is not just a music teacher, but also the Creative Director of the Pink Elephant Music Company and Co-Executive Director of the AVPA. From his countless hours of hard work and dedication, Dr. Spano has provided students with a creative environment where they can learn and grow in music. Without his tireless commitment to the music programs, classes and clubs here at CCHS, students would not be able to receive such a diverse and in depth education in the arts. Dr. Spano believes that everyone has talent: he never turns anyone away as long as they want to work hard and get better. He says, “If you improve, you are successful. If you learn, you are improved. And when I teach, I learn.”
Dr. Spano credits many of his own music teachers throughout the years for influencing and inspiring him to pursue a career in music education and conducting. Just as Dr. Spano is our marching and concert band director here at CCHS, he had band directors of his own in junior high and high school that instructed and inspired him as he does us. He credits band directors Mr. Mallinson and Mr. Wire, his English teacher Mrs. Hill and choir teacher Mr. Oesterreich, for having motivated his creativity. When he started playing in honor bands in high school, Spano met some great university conductors that influenced him as well. Other strong influences on Dr. Spano and specifically his teaching and music making philosophy include conductors Allan McMurray and Dr. Tom Lee; He studied with McMurray and Lee at the University of Colorado and UCLA. Dr. Spano remarks, “I often hear their voices in my head when I’m rehearsing a music ensemble – helping me develop my interpretation and how I evaluate our performance.”
The music department, along with the other AVPA departments, have created many wonderful projects and put on amazing performances and productions from music concerts featuring concert band, jazz ensemble, chamber music, jazz combo, string orchestra, chamber singers, and more, to the annual spring musical with cast and crew from across all the departments and a student orchestra led by Dr. Spano himself. During the football season, Dr. Spano teaches the fundamentals of marching and playing; he designs and teaches original halftime show routines for the marching band. He organizes for the concert band, jazz combo, and jazz ensemble to play in band and jazz festivals and schedules gigs around Culver City for the jazz combo. Spano helps arrange collaborations between the music company and the other departments, such as a jazz cabaret featuring singers from multiple departments, musicians from the music department and artwork done by the art department; and film scoring by music students for the film department’s original movies. Dr. Spano says that it is these “wonderful projects [that have] made this a unique and immensely rewarding job”; his favorite memories of working here at CCHS are, “when, at the end of each performance, the students are so happy and proud of their work.” It is largely thanks to the constant time, energy and effort Dr. Spano puts into these projects that we have these incredible opportunities at our school.
Dr. Spano has had an immense impact on many students at Culver City High School and without him, our school’s arts programs and productions would not be what they are today. Senior and co-president of the Pink Elephant Music Company Reno Behnken said, “No teacher I know works harder than Dr. Spano…he works tirelessly to provide opportunities for all arts students. Ever since the [AVPA] program’s creation, Dr. Spano has been contributing to the community by giving it a student soundtrack.” Every student at CCHS who has ever been a part of a music program has been helped and inspired by Dr. Spano’s efforts and support. 4th year music student Oliver Berliner said, “I would not be the person I am today without Dr. Spano and the Pink Elephant Music Company. I owe so much of my success and happiness to the many hours I spent in room 94 making music with and for Dr. Spano.”
It’s easy to see why Dr. Spano was voted CCHS’ teacher of the year, and he certainly deserves to be honored, thanked, and appreciated by everyone in the community. Our school and our city has been infinitely changed for the better thanks to Dr. Spano and those like him who are willing to put countless hours of hard work into creating and improving programs that better student’s educations and lives. In the words of Dr. Spano, “We are very fortunate to be living in such a supportive and creative community. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn, to experience, and to be better. Be good to each other. I am grateful to have the opportunity to make art here at Culver City HS and AVPA.”