Students from the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District will display their musical prowess during Stairway of the Stars, a concert series that will run throughout the week.

The cream of the SMMUSD performing crop will participate in the series consisting of choir, band, and orchestra concerts with special guest conductors for each show.

For Tom Whaley, jazz teacher and Visual and Performing Arts coordinator at Santa Monica High School, seeing these performances come together for the 69th annual talent showcase is music to his ears. Whaley is responsible for putting the performances together, performances he says prominently show off the immense talents of the students in a supportive community.

“Stairway of the Stars is advocacy, it’s showcasing the work of our students and teachers,” Whaley said. “The levels these orchestras perform at are at a collegiate level and sometimes, even lap them.”

In a concert series involving over 1,000 elementary, middle, and high school students with guest conductors including a Grammy award winner, Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati expressed his pride in the SMMUSD concert series and it’s students via a press release for the events.

“These three concerts are the culmination of hard work and dedication by our students and music instructors,” Drati said. “We look forward to exceptional performances again this year.”

In addition to the performances, each year Stairway of the Stars honors someone important to SMMUSD and it’s music programs. Recipients range from volunteers, financial benefactors, music foundations, and alumni. Last year, the Stairway Honor Award was given to Mark Bernard, a SaMoHi alumni who experienced his first Stairway of the Stars concert in 1971.

This year, the award will be given to Tessa Vinson, a member of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, the premier band of the Marines. Vinson attended SaMoHi and went on to attend UC Santa Barbara and then the Manhattan School of Music before finding herself performing for the president. It’s achievements like these that bring accolades to an already impressive program.

“This music program is arguably the best in the state and top in the nation,” Whaley says. “The teachers in the district are first-rate and so is the community here. That’s what happens when everything is in place.”

By “everything,” Whaley refers to the talent, the teachers that cultivate that talent, and support from the community to perpetuate Santa Monica music excellence.

Last year the event brought in around $43,000 in revenue which essentially had Stairway break even. The goal isn’t to get donations, Whaley says, but once parents and community members see performances, donations trickle in. Money from donations to the program have helped serve economically disadvantaged children in the district, maintenance repairs of instruments, and providing students with extended lessons.

“Every child in our district has music,” Whaley notes. “When they (parents) are proud, they support us. We have seven orchestras at SaMoHi, five full-time (music) teachers and over 900 students in the music program. That’s a third of the district performing music in some way.”

Whaley adds that SaMoHi specifically sends about a third of their music students to an all-state orchestra. That equates to nearly 60 students performing at the highest level within the state, while most high schools send an average of ten.

“Music brings everyone together,” Whaley says. “The Board, superintendent, mayors, you name it. The community support, they’re all moved by the students.”

All concerts begin at 7 p.m. in the Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall auditorium.

The Band concert will be on Wednesday, March 14.

The Orchestra concert will be on Friday, March 16.

Tickets will be available online until noon on the day of each concert. Remaining tickets for each concert will be on sale at the Barnum Hall box office. Proceeds from the ticket sales go right back into the districts music programs.

General adult admission is $17 for each concert and youth/student is $12. Visit for tickets.

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