A Crescendo of Opportunity

Nothing competes with the satisfying feeling of unwrapping the perfect Christmas present or opening a much-anticipated school acceptance letter. Azusa Pacific University alumnus Erick Quintanilla ’11, MM ’13, had that same magical feeling the first time he opened a saxophone case in his 7th-grade band class. From the moment Quintanilla laid eyes on the shiny instrument, his world opened to new possibilities. For the first time, he experienced the power of music to inspire young minds. Little did he know, he would use his gifts and talents years later to lead his own school band program, enabling the next generation of young musicians to experience that same feeling. 

Playing saxophone in middle school provided Quintanilla with a way to succeed in a difficult school environment. “Growing up in the ’90s in Mid-City Los Angeles was pretty tough,” he said. “In my neighborhood, there was a lot of crime and gang issues. Music was my outlet. I had music after school, and I practiced during lunch, so I was able to stay away from the wrong crowds.”

In high school, Quintanilla joined the All-District Honor Band where he discovered his love for the tuba. When he was discouraged, his band director affirmed his potential, motivating him to keep pursuing his music studies.

“I remember there were times when I wanted to quit tuba,” he said. “But my band director told me, ‘You have to stick with it; I promise you, if you keep up with music, you will get scholarships and opportunities later.’ Little did I know, he was right—the tuba ended up helping me pay for college.”

It was also in high school that Quintanilla realized he wanted to become a music teacher. From his time in band, he knew he was called to pursue music for the rest of his life. After high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force, working as a musician and jet engine mechanic for eight years. Quintanilla was the principal tubist of the 562nd Air Force band, as well as a bass player and musical director of the Air National Guard’s only Latin/pop/rock ensemble, Fuego Azul. After his military service, Quintanilla studied at APU’s School of Music, obtaining a BA in Music Teacher Education and an MM in Tuba Performance.

In reflecting on his education, Quintanilla credits APU for equipping him to be the teacher that he is today: “I really appreciate the God First mission of APU. All of my classes had that focus. This greatly helped nurture not only my teaching and musical skills, but also my spiritual beliefs.”

In the fall of 2014, Quintanilla was hired at Hollenbeck Middle School as a long-term substitute music teacher while he was simultaneously finishing his teaching credential. “Thanks to APU’s flexible program, I was able to finish my credentialing process during evenings while still working as a teacher,” he said. “This opportunity led me to landing a full-time music teacher position.”

When Quintanilla began working at Hollenbeck, he discovered the music program was lacking good equipment and resources. Music equipment was old and in need of repair, with some instruments scantily held together by paper clips and duct tape. Rather than viewing these circumstances as debilitating, Quintanilla took this as a challenge to find a way to give his students a high-quality music experience.

“When I was first hired, the program was greatly lacking in leadership and equipment,” he said. “However, I knew my students had great potential. I envisioned a program that was competitive and inspiring. The first step toward this goal was obtaining new instruments for my students.”

Quintanilla spent time researching grants and funding for new equipment. His former teacher and fellow All-District Honor Band Director, Tony White, recommended he look into the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, an organization that helps schools secure grants and instruments for band programs. Through this organization, Quintanilla secured multiple grants totaling $170,000 to go toward resources for the program. Because of these grants, the band was able to buy new instruments and equipment, go to festivals and competitions, and even perform at Disneyland’s California Adventure. 

“In certain communities, music programs often get overlooked,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that students’ passion and ability could be highlighted. These grants allowed this to happen.” 

Recently, Quintanilla made a guest appearance on the Kelly Clarkson Show, where he shared his inspiring story. On the show, Quintanilla’s program received $20,000 in donations from Pandora and the celebrity hosts. One of his former students, Lidia, was in the audience, with a special message for her teacher: “Thank you for making a big impact on my life. I thought that because I was a girl, I wasn’t going to do well on my instrument. I didn’t have the confidence, but you showed me that I have potential and that I can do anything I set my mind to.”

Just as his teachers poured into him, Quintanilla is making a difference in the lives of his music students. “I believe that our mission as humans is to serve each other. I learned to serve others well at APU and in the military, and now I’m blessed with the opportunity to serve others here in the communities that need it most.”