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2023 "40 Under 40" Educator James Sepulvado

James Sepulvado

Performing Arts Department Chair,
Associate Professor of Music
Cuyamaca College
Rancho San Diego, California

Providing opportunities for music students and music teachers to learn to be better players and educators has been a driving motivator for James Sepulvado, the Performing Arts Department Chair and Associate Professor of Music at Cuyamaca College in San Diego.

In 2008, a group of music teachers in San Diego discussed what music education should look like in the region. “We dreamt of creating a professional wind ensemble that could serve as a model for the plurality of young people in this country who learn what art is through their band class at school,” Sepulvado says. “We also thought of innovative ways we could employ the musicians of that wind ensemble to carry out educational outreach programs.”

Fifteen years later, that dream has grown into an organization that presents concerts and educational programs to thousands of students every year. The flagship program is the San Diego Summer Music Institute (SDSMI), which has become one of the finest summer music camps in the country. “We try to keep the big-picture goal of the camp simple: Connect the most passionate music students with the very best musicians and teachers,” Sepulvado explains. “Over time, we have improved on our ability to execute that goal, and students and musicians alike have come to recognize SDSMI as an exciting place to learn and teach.”

As SDSMI grew and improved, Sepulvado and his colleagues started to think, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if other music teachers could see what we’re seeing? This led us to come up with the idea to add an educators track to the camp, which we did in 2019,” he says.

They named the camp the Ryan Anthony Music Project (RAMP) after Ryan Anthony, who hailed from San Diego and was the Principal Trumpet in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Anthony dedicated his life to music and to his charity, Cancer Blows, until his death in 2020.  

RAMP is gaining traction as a premier professional development workshop for music educators around the country.

Sepulvado’s lastest project is an after-school music program for elementary students in the Santee and Lemon Grove school districts. “There is a renaissance of music education happening in east San Diego county,” he says. “After years and even decades of no music program existing in this area, more than 750 students in these two districts alone have started studying music. The model is catching on and spreading, and I think we are on the brink of seeing a generational cultural change that will improve our community for decades!”   

On top of all this, Sepulvado wrote a book, “The Joy of Listening to Music.” “The core message I hope to convey in my book is that the act of listening attentively to a great piece of music is one of the greatest joys humans can experience,” he says. “Listening to music under the right conditions is healing and transformative in a very powerful way. When music is understood and experienced in this way, it becomes clear that great classical music is very relevant to our lives today and not some museum piece from a long past era.”