Music room P3 at Dos Pueblos High School is a space cluttered with awards. Inside, 30 novice jazz band students sit with their sheet music and respective instruments at their disposal; they run through the Latin jazz standard “Besame Mucho,” sounding so sonorous that a non-musician would struggle to pick up on the errors. Meanwhile, music director Les Rose continues to work out kinks in various sections with ever-encouraging words like, “Throwing you in the fire! Go for it.” Rose not only knows how to put on a show, he also knows how to tweak it.
This skill is apparent in the fact that he is a quarterfinalist for the first Music Educator Award, which will be presented as part of the 56th annual Grammy Awards next February. So far, nominees have been whittled down from 30,000 educators to 217 across 45 states.
The award was created to recognize teachers who have significantly impacted and contributed to music education while demonstrating a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music programs in schools. Rose explains that his cousin Lenny Gold nominated him for the award after it was announced earlier this year. He then had to fill out an application to enter the first round.
“If they like what you have to say, they move you to the quarterfinals,” he said. “Apparently they liked what I had to say.”
Rose currently teaches novice jazz band, advanced jazz band, marching band, concert band, and orchestra at Dos Pueblos. His involvement in the music department has helped to distinguish each of these groups. The novice jazz band recently won first place in their category at the Super Jazz at the Ranch festival. The orchestra, which he established six years ago, is the only full-time orchestra in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
In discussing the honor, Rose professes three teaching philosophies that he’s developed over his 20-plus years as an educator. The first is fundamentals. During previous employment at La Colina Junior High, “I was the very first music teacher that anyone ever had,” he said. “It was my responsibility to teach them correctly the first time so that they wouldn’t get into bad habits.”
The second philosophy is to implement a sequence of musical development for his students. “It’s a luxury to have a beginning, intermediate, and advanced sequence of study in a public school because we’re always dealing with budget constraints and scheduling constraints, but I made it a priority to try to build [that kind of] program,” he said.
The third philosophy is to “walk the walk” as both a musician and teacher. “If I’m going to tell these kids to practice, I better practice because I’m the model for them,” he said.
Rose has been a professional musician for over 40 years. He’s recorded two jazz albums under his name and one with the Los Angeles Jazz Workshop He currently plays everything from swing jazz to country with The Les Rose Ensembles, which plays events such as weddings, charity balls and corporate events.
“If you were to ask who I am, I would say that I’m a musician,” he said. “The teaching part of it is an extension of [that].”
While Rose spent most of his 20s pursuing music professionally, he earned a teaching degree from Brooklyn College in 1981 at the encouragement of his father. “I got into teaching relatively later in my life, in my 30s,” he said. He started teaching at La Colina in 1993, and stayed there for nine years. In 2002 he transferred to Dos Pueblos, where he’s been ever since.
When his novice jazz students describe Rose’s class, the word “strict” repeatedly arises, but they vouch that this is necessary to improve their playing. Alto saxophonist Ryan Green, who transferred to Dos Pueblos this year specifically for the music program, says Rose helped him develop his musical abilities in “like, every way.”
“I feel like I have given every student at least the opportunity to be successful in music,” Rose said. “And they all take it for what it’s worth.”
In fact, he’s had such an effect on his students that last year’s advanced jazz band created a “Book of Rose-isms,” made up of their teacher’s signature phrases, which range from “the sublime to the ridiculous,” Rose said. Excerpts include the inspirational “Demonstrate so that you can motivate.”
Hopefully, a Grammy nomination will prove a sufficient demonstration. Rose must submit three short documentaries about his teaching philosophies and the impact he’s had on the lives of his students, parents, school, community, and music education in order to move onto the next round. Semifinalists will be announced in August.
“Now the stakes are higher,” he said.