There’s the old adage that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.
That’s not the case with Dr. Lisa Renteria, a professional musician who was hired this year as the Director of Bands for Pusch Ridge Christian Academy and Cornerstone Christian Academy.
The third band director in three years, Renteria acknowledges she walked into a challenging situation when accepting the job offer.
While she has played professionally in various orchestras, Renteria had never taught in a classroom setting before.
“All my experience was performance oriented,” said Renteria. “I was excited but scared because I didn’t feel I had the experience in teaching.”
But Pusch Ridge administrators saw something special about her, and hired her anyway.
Not only would Renteria have to adapt to a teaching environment, she was also walking into a Pusch Ridge band program that with eight members enrolled, had disintegrated under previous teachers to the point it couldn’t even march during school football games.
“They hired me when the band program was at rock bottom,” said Renteria. “It was considered a failing program. The kids didn’t have any trust for their (band) teacher.”
Despite the challenges ahead of her, Renteria had an abundance of education and playing experience on her side.
Having played the flute from the fifth through tenth grades, Renteria switched to the bassoon, an instrument she says inspired her to continue her musical education at the University of Arizona, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in music performance.
Renteria then continued her education at the Eastman School of Music, and completed her schooling by returning to the University of Arizona where she earned her Doctorate in Musical Arts.
The former Arizona Wildcat has played professionally with the Tucson Pops Orchestra, the Maderas Bassoon Quartet, the Tucson Symphony, and other local ensembles. She also performs nationally and internationally with her husband, opera tenor and pianist Francisco Renteria.
With such accolades, Renteria says she has had to take a step back when it comes to teaching.
“These are not professionals, these are students who go to school and have homework and play sports. I’m used to working with professionals, so sometimes I have to just say, ‘Wait a minute – what’s the most I can expect from them that is realistic?’”
While she may feel slightly out of her comfort zone, Renteria’s history of playing and love for music are the tools she has used to re-inspire the Pusch Ridge band program.
“It’s about creating excitement and getting students passionate about music, and have them spread that to their friends,” said Renteria, who also recruited from the eighth grade class to grow the program. “I’m so passionate about music. That’s my life – I live for it, and I was able to show that emotion to the students.”
Her excitement has proven infectious.
The Pusch Ridge band now consists of 25 members, and is expected to have 30-40 students enrolled next year.
Raymie Rash, a junior in the band program, has seen the peaks and valleys of the program.
“I think the reason we’ve grown this year is because the last few years we’ve had teachers who had taught before and had expectations and those weren’t what the students wanted,” he said. “Dr. Renteria had never taught, so she came in and said, ‘What are your expectations?’ and asked us our thoughts on running the program.”
Band members told her their thoughts, and she listened. That caused a chain effect of interest amongst past band members due to word of mouth.
“We went and told the people who had quit that they had to join band again,” said Rash.
While Renteria encourages students to have fun in band, she says she does hold high expectations.
“We focus on a high level of playing,” she said. “When students reach their highest level, that’s when the excitement comes. Being able to connect with the audience by bringing live music – that’s important. Music is the heart of the school, and we represent the school in a big way.”