Cal Poly Pomona professor honored for music education

Jessie Vallejo, an associate professor of music at Cal Poly Pomona, has been selected as one of “40 Under 40” music teachers celebrated for “music education excellence” by Yamaha Music USA. The award honors “remarkable educators who bring innovation and passion into their classrooms … who are making a difference in growing and strengthening their music programs.”

Vallejo, who is the only Southern California music educator on the list, is director of the university’s mariachi ensembles. She also teaches courses across the music department’s curriculum, including: world of music; musics of Mexico; mariachi ensembles; theory, history and design of musical instruments; ethnomusicology: theory, history & field methods; and beginning & intermedia strings.

In the classroom, Vallejo’s goal is to get her students excited about learning.

“I am one of those people who feel like I need five lifetimes to do everything I’m interested in,” she said Vallejo. “I want to walk into class every day and enjoy what I teach about. Each of the class projects I’ve done, I’ve done it because it sounded fun, and there was a lot to learn from it.”

One recent example was a collaboration with Dr. Julian Saporiti, a.k.a. No-No Boy. Vallejo was listening to his song “The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming” and thought its expression about the overlapping experiences of Asian, Mexican and Central Americans in Pomona over the last century would resonate with her students. She wrote to Saporiti asking if she could write a mariachi arrangement of the song and have her students learn it.

Her request turned into a lengthier collaboration that included a Smithsonian Folklife recording, “La Banda Más Chingón en Wyoming,” and a joint performance with her students in mariachi and the music of Mexico class joining No-No Boy on the CPP Recital Hall stage.

“I feel like in ensemble classes, you’re so busy trying to learn repertoire in rehearsal, you don’t really get to dive into the meanings of songs or the history that its tapping into,” said Vallejo. “This song was such a rich way to study local history, what was happening during the pandemic with the children who had to be reconnected with their parents when they were separated at the border, and then also looking back to 80 years ago when it was the assembly center for Japanese Americans.”

This semester, her music of Mexico class will be working on the corrido “Siete Leguas” about Pancho Villa’s horse and the song “El Noa Noa” by Juan Gabriel, which provides an opportunity to discuss issues of queer culture and LGBTQ rights. They will perform the songs accompanied by Mariachi Los Broncos on April 30.

Student David Gonzalez has taken her music of Mexico class and organology class in the past and is in his third year in the mariachi ensemble.

“I can honestly say that Dr. Vallejo is the professor who has had the most positive impact on me. I see that she cares for all her students and, regardless of all the activities or events she is involved with, she always makes time to meet with her students when we reach out. Being on the journey to be a music instructor myself, I find in Dr. Vallejo all the qualities of the teacher I desire to be.”

According to Professor David Kopplin, chair of the Cal Poly Pomona Music Department who nominated Vallejo for the award, “Jessie Vallejo is a force of nature.”

“When she arrived, there was no mariachi ensemble and only a few broken-down instruments from a long-dead class. She completely started the program anew, and now they are the busiest ensemble in our program. And that’s just one area where she excels. She also contributes on many other levels: in leadership on campus, in her scholarship, in her classes, in advising.”


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