On Another Note



The performing arts department welcomes acclaimed conductor and singer Zanaida Robles as the new upper school choir conductor.

Kaelyn Bowers and Gabi Berchtold

Zanaida Robles will replace Eric Gault as the new Upper School choir conductor.
Before Harvard-Westlake, Robles received awards including the University of Southern California’s Symposium Fellowship, the Young Musicians Foundation Gladys Turk scholarship and two Los Angeles Artist of the Future awards. Robles has a Doctorate of Music from California State University Northridge and California State University Long Beach. Prior to accepting the role as a Havrard-Westlake performing arts teacher, Robles conducted choirs such as the University of Southern California Thornton University Chorus and the Classical Choirs at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. She has sung professionally with The Rolling Stones, Josh Groban and worked as a singer and pianist on the TV show “Glee.”
Robles also serves as the music director for Project Messiah, an organization that creates musical events with people dealing with homelessness or incarceration. Robles will continue to sing with the Los Angeles Master Chorale while teaching at the Upper School.
“Coming to Harvard-Westlake means a lot less [time spent on my other activities], which makes the fact that I’m coming to Harvard-Westlake a really big deal and something that I really am proud of,” Robles said. “It’s a big decision. I couldn’t be happier with it because I know that of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had, I expect teaching teaching at this institution to be a mountaintop experience in terms of the level of musicianship and artistic excellence that we are going to achieve.”
Students said they hope that under the guidance of the Robles, the upper school choirs will increase the camarderie and performance quality of the choir program.
Chamber singer Alexa Frandzel ’18 said Robles’ colorful scarves immediately made her feel welcome.
“I feel like the different colors of her scarves reflected her artistic sides in the same way her music mirrors her creative side,” Frandzel said.
Robles plans to use her experience and new resources to expand upon the foundation that the choral groups have established over the past few years.
“My goals for the program are to really build an artistic identity for the organization that the students can take ownership of, that they can be proud of, and really foster a healthy community and strong relationships, interpersonally and artistically,” Robles said. “Being in a choir is like being on a team, and I really believe that singers are athletes.”
Frandzel said she hopes choir students will become closer this year and have an opportunity to bond.
“I want [Robles] to help facilitate that and help us showcase our brilliance,” Frandzel said. “I hope for us to take choir trips because it would elevate the choir to a new caliber through different travel opportunities.”
Robles said her ultimate goal for the program is to spread the choir’s music to a larger variety of more audiences.
“[Choir] has a lot of spirit in it, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of fun, and when you couple that with artistic excellence, it’s a really dynamic program,” Robles said. “That’s what I expect and the ultimate goal is to be able to take what we do out into the world, and be the hands and voices of our institution, sharing our excellence through our music.”
Robles’ interest in joining the Harvard-Westlake community began through her relationships with some of her predecessors, including Roger Guerrero and Jane Campbell. Robles is one of the few women to serve as a choral conductor at the Upper School.
“I have been interested in Harvard-Westlake for a long time,” Robles said. “My predecessors, Guerrero and Campbell, were both friends and mentors of mine. I studied with and followed [Campbell] to the LA County High School for the Arts, where I taught for seven years. I knew she had come from Harvard-Westlake and that’s where I learned about that school. I always kind of imagined if I wasn’t teaching at the LA High School for the Arts, [Harvard-Westlake] would be another amazing place to teach. It is the only other high school that kind of comes close to that type of experience with artistic excellence. I just had to wait until the time was right.”
Robles said she was inspired by the diversity and positivity of the students she met while going through the interview process.
“I don’t think many people would say this about job interviews, but I honestly can say I had a blast,” Robles said. “I loved doing it and that’s what really made me feel like this could be a place where I could really thrive and do something, because the minute I stepped foot on the campus and started to interact with the students, that’s when my fear went away.”
In her interactions with students during her interview, Robles said she felt a sense of community and connected well with the vocalists.
“With the students, I felt like I could be myself and immediately make music,” Robles said. “That was intensely gratifying. I was biting my nails waiting to find out if I was going to be [offered the position]. You can’t imagine the party that I had when I found out I got the job.”
One of Robles’s largest goals for the program is finding a way to integrate her passion for diversity by visiting other school programs who are underprivileged and getting involved.
She said shwas moved by the diversity she saw within the Harvard-Westlake community.
“The good news is that the student body has a lot of color in it,” Robles said. “I was emotional during my interviews because I saw all of these different students and I just didn’t know that there was so much diversity already present. We’re taking what we have and what we have accomplished and bringing our experience and resources into communities that we haven’t before. It’s really about having an authentic relationship with people we don’t know.And that’s really what diversity means for me.”