Instrumental Music Teachers Work Together in Perfect Harmony


Nate Taylor

During break, students can often find music directors Desmond Stevens and Kyle Traska conversing in the music room about topics ranging from instrumental compositions to the many ways that one can decorate a water bottle.

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Sounds of melodic arrangements and the cacophonic dissonance of instruments tuning is suddenly interrupted, as a room full of music students erupt into a peal of laughter, their faces lively as they watch the joking exchange between instrumental music teachers Desmond Stevens and Kyle Traska. The pair have become well-known throughout the school for their hilarious banter, entertaining antics and wholesome friendship.

“They’re very good friends, or almost brothers, in the sense that they play on each other’s jokes, and when they’re in the same room, the energy between them and the connection is something that you can see instantly,” guitarist and sophomore Joaquin Gaona said.

Stevens and Traska have known each other for less than two years. The pair met on March 23, 2018 at a Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association festival held at University High, where Traska was student teaching. After hearing that Portola High was in need of an additional music teacher, University High instrumental music teacher Corey Heddon recommended Traska.

The friendship seems to come across to the students in a way that resonates.

— Kyle Traska

From their very first encounter, it became clear to both Stevens and Traska that their personalities complemented each other, allowing for the two to develop similar philosophies toward teaching and music. While this unified vision toward life is what allows them to work well together, it is their shared fondness of jokes (including those involving farts) and pop culture references (like the recitation of YouTube videos) that has formed the foundation of their friendship.

“We like to have a dry and sarcastic sense of humor with our students. A lot of times we’ll joke around and try to see how far we can push absurdity with the students, trying to get them to believe in something that might not exist or maybe is a little bit fake,” Stevens said. “It’s kind of a fun way to interact with each other and with the students.”

Outside of the classroom, Stevens and Traska have begun a new tradition where the two throw a neon frisbee, affectionately coined a “chip-chip,” to each other as they walk around campus. After certain late night events, such as band competitions or football games, the pair, along with other members of the coaching staff, will get dinner together; BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse is among their favorites.

As Traska affirms, he and Stevens try to meet with each other as often as their wives will let them.

“[Students] see us having fun and it seems like they also want to be a part of the fun,” Traska said. “The friendship seems to come across to the students in a way that resonates.”

For many students, music is more than a mere class; it is an opportunity to collaborate creatively with peers, invest in a passion and bond over a common interest. Stevens and Traska’s friendship, besides being heartwarming, is a testament to this unifying nature of music.

“[Music] really brings those performers closer together because they have to be able to trust themselves, but they also have to be able to trust others,” Stevens said. “And that creates that natural environment where they can find those friends, where they can really connect with other people in meaningful ways, that you might not be able to get as naturally in another class.”