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School Leaders Unveil New MBMS Music Building

May 24, 2023 06:07PM ● By Ruth Stroud
With three bands, four orchestras and multiple choirs and multiple awards and accolades, the musical talents and ambitions of Manhattan Beach Middle School students couldn’t be contained in a normal classroom space.

On Monday afternoon, a new dedicated music building measuring 5,184 square feet and housing a band room, choral room, offices, practice rooms, and state-of-the-art acoustics was unveiled to an enthusiastic audience of civic and educational leaders.

“Our music program is such a showcase to create the growth opportunities for our students to develop into musicians that they want to be and to represent the school,” said Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board President Cathey Graves, “Our kids will perform wherever we put them, but this type of facility gives them that opportunity.”

The facility, built at an estimated cost of just over $4.1 million and paid for by Measure C Bond funds, took about a year to construct and opened shortly after spring break.

“It has really just changed everything,” said Kate Crellin, who teaches choir at both MBMS and at Mira Costa High School. “This has just transformed the way that we are able to learn and celebrate music.”

Students are able to hear themselves and each other because the rooms are designed specifically for music, Crellin said.


There are also recording systems so the students can record themselves and listen to other choral performances, she said.

The choir is rebuilding following the disruptions caused by COVID, and the new facility is making a huge difference, Crellin said. There are more than 60 students, an increase of more than 50% from last year, she said.

“The hope is we’ll grow and grow and grow," she said. "We have the room to now host many more students, to do new things, to make even higher quality music.”


Denise Haslop, who teaches instrumental music at MBMS and is in her 24th year at the school, was equally enthusiastic about the new building. “This is just amazing!” she said.

A regular classroom is designed for speaking, not music, Haslop added. “When we first got into this room, the students were just amazed because they can hear themselves and they can hear the other instruments. What a joy!”

At the presentation, which took place in the band room, the assembled company was entertained by a string ensemble, a flute duet, and a choir that performed two songs, including one called “The Other Side,” commissioned especially for the group from Los Angeles choral composer Rob Dietz (no relative of the Dietz Bros. Music). Dietz workshopped the piece with the choral students, using some of their feelings and thoughts following the COVID lockdown in the verses.

Speakers at the gathering included MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes, who kicked off the event; MBUSD Board President Cathey Graves, and Deputy Superintendent Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard.

Also in attendance were former MBUSD board members Sally Peel, Jen Cochran and Bill Fournell; current board members Bruce Greenberg, Tina Shivpuri and Wysh Weinstein; and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Franklin and City Council Member David Lesser.

In addition, the DLR Group, Balfour Beatty, and Silver Creek, all of whom played major roles in completing the project, were on hand.

Sandy Casey Remembered

Also occurring at this event was the unveiling of a plaque honoring the memory of Sandy Casey, an MBMS special education teacher who was killed in the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. In attendance was the man who was her fiancé at the time, Chris Willemse, and his wife and daughter.


When the school board requested that a tree that had been planted in memory of Casey be preserved, the project contractors, Balfour Beatty said they would not only protect the tree but erect a plaque at no additional cost. It includes one of the teacher’s favorite sayings, “Storms Make Trees Take Deeper Roots.”

It’s the perfect quote because Casey wanted to teach her students that sort of resilience, Willemse said.

Before calling for a moment of silence in memory of Sandy Casey, Murakawa-Leopard recalled another of Casey's popular quotes that is on a number of doors and benches on the MBMS campus: “Today’s a Good Day for a Good Day.”

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