Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

Student Run News Site of Venice High School

The Oarsman

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Music Program Adapts Harmoniously To New Changes

Roxane Gama
Guitar class: Senior Matthew Aguilar and sophomore Masawwer Khan play a guitar solo from “Master of Puppets” by Metallica. New music teacher Aaron Sim teaches the class.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Updated since the publication of the April Print Issue on April 19, 2024

On the east side of the Venice High campus, snugged between the band rooms and the East Building, Room 5 is home to many student musicians.

In a bright yellow room, a number of pianos fills up the space from all sides. An assortment of music catalogs, programs, and awards can be seen from all angles, and in an extra nook, a rack of acoustic guitars decorates the walls.

Then, in the next room, a choral riser is set up just beside a piano, ready to create some melodies for the day.

This is the classroom current music teacher Aaron Sim has been teaching in since the departure of former music teacher Wendy Sarnoff.

“Through the grapevine, colleagues and former colleagues knew that the position was opening, and they notified me about it, so here I am,” Sim said.

It is Sim’s first year teaching, and according to him, he’s still adjusting.

“I’m still trying to even wrap my head around a lot of the administrative duties,” he said.

According to administrative assistant Juancarlos Gonzalez, paperwork shows that Sarnoff left Venice High by November 13.

Principal Yavonka Hairston-Truitt said that it was great working with Sarnoff.

“She was very passionate and knowledgeable in the work she did,” she said.

Although, as much as it impacted the whole of Venice High, Sarnoff’s students were left to self-direct themselves until current music teacher Aaron Sim stepped in, according to senior Adriana Pozos, president of the Choir.

“It took some time, but we’re there now,” she said.

Despite the sudden change in leadership, the music program has weathered through a similar experience in the past. Sarnoff said there were only “about 11 students in the program” when she started.

However, with her hard work and dedication, her section of the music program at Venice began to grow.

“I bought all the pianos, the guitars, the keyboards and all the music,” Sarnoff said. “I procured those materials through phone conversations, grants, donations
from the community because people said, ‘She’s working hard, let’s help her out.’”

From then on, the program has had success, and part of it is credited to her high standards for students.

“They truly are artists,” she said. “These students are wonderful people. Their basic work ethic and ability to communicate through the medium of music has been extraordinary.”

Over the last two decades, Venice students have been competing in highly acclaimed choral groups such as the California All-State Honor Choir (ACDA) and the Southern California Vocal Association Honor Choir (SCVA).

Furthermore, for the past few years, Venice has had the honor of producing leading soloists for not only SCVA, but also for ACDA.

“We get more students into SCVA than all of the schools in the district combined,” Sarnoff said.

Among the students who auditioned and passed this year for SCVA were seniors Estrela Boateng, Adriana Pozos, Seann Paris Alib and Brandon Zhu, junior Bibi Ciment, and sophomores Tyler Alib and Ezra Huang.

According to Sarnoff, Ciment has had professional singing experience in a local children’s choir before attending Venice High.

At Venice, Ciment has also organized a women’s quartet called Girl Treble.

“She bought the music, she organized the students, she learned to play piano—she really conquered herself and created challenges for herself,” Sarnoff said.

However, Ciment has felt significant changes in the music program since Sarnoff left.

“We just kind of stopped doing a lot of stuff–there have been things that for the past 40 years Venice students have done, and then this year, they just did not happen.”

Another student who has taken advantage of Sarnoff’s teachings is senior Lauren Ashley.

According to Sarnoff, Ashley made it as a semi-finalist for the Music Center Spotlight Award Competition this year and now sings professionally.

“She’s singing with Vox Femina, an all-female organization with one of Southern California’s finest choral directors,” Sarnoff said. “Lauren Ashley may be the next

Even though Ashley did not make it into the SCVA in 2022, she went on to audition the next year and was named as a soloist out of many other auditionees.

Additionally, Pozos has expanded her horizons as a musician because of the music program.

“Adriana made it into SCVA,” Sarnoff said. “She also netted an $84,000 scholarship to the music program at Loyola Marymount University, and I’m proud of that.”

Despite her achievements, Pozos said it was difficult going between different substitutes while trying to steadily practice after Sarnoff left.

The choir has a music festival hosted by the Los Angeles Master Chorale coming up in May, so the group has been focused on working through challenges to
prepare for the event, according to Pozos.

Since she is in a higher position within the choir, Pozos said she has had to step up in a way she hasn’t before.

But even through the struggles, Sarnoff said that Venice students are “musical professionals.”

“They work hard, they are dedicated to their art, and they are professional singers by virtue of the fact that is what they choose to be,” she said.

Because of her students’ work ethic, Sarnoff has always aimed to provide students with the tools they need to achieve greatness in their careers as musicians.

“The reason that I work my Coast Guard sea captain’s job was to purchase music for the school, folders, new books, costumes, to pay for their honor choir auditions, housing, transportation, and their room and board, because they are representing the district,” she said.

Even though she has recognized that this form of financial help is not typical of a teacher, Sarnoff said that “if students are going to be extraordinary, then they need to be rewarded.”

Sarnoff said that it’s experiences with her students that she’ll remember the most.

“I miss the opportunity to watch students grow and excel, and the opportunity to help students create themselves a worldwide international means of expression,” she said.

Ashley is hopeful for the future of the Venice music program under Sim’s leadership.

“He is incredible,” she said. “He’s prioritizing keeping the choir together so we can have that program we had before.”

Ashley said that those thinking about joining choir or any other music related class should get involved.

“You’ve got an army to support you,” she said. “This community turns into your family very quickly.”

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