More than 100 former Hoover High School musicians dating back to 1992 gathered onstage inside the school's auditorium on June 12 to perform the music program's familiar tune, "Que te Vas Hacer," in honor of their recently retired musical instructor Craig Kupka.
"It was incredible," he said. "There were kids from the very first semester I taught. It was a wonderful, warm and heartfelt moment."
Although Kupka developed a reputation at Hoover as one of the best instructors in the country, he said he never originally intended to be a teacher. Growing up in a musical family in Inglewood, Kupka mainly played the trombone, in the footsteps of his father, and in the back of his mind, he always intended on being a musician, not a teacher.
He went on to attend UCLA, where he said he played the trombone whenever he could. After graduating in 1969 with a bachelor's degree in music, Kupka began performing with the jazz band, Septimus Pro. As a member of the band, Kupka was doing what he enjoyed most in life, playing the trombone and composing music.
After marrying his wife Nancy in 1974 and starting a family a few years later, Kupka knew he needed to find a stronger source of income. In 1984, Kupka began his teaching career at L.A. County High School for the Arts, and he developed a passion for teaching young people.
"Being a player and a composer became less important to me than teaching," he said.
After several years at county high school, Kupka took over the music program at Hoover in 1992.
Initially, he was shocked to see how many students didn't want to play in music festivals or venture outside Glendale for competition. But during the next two years, Kupka began building up Hoover's program. He started classes teaching jazz, rock, classical chamber music, music theory and advanced music technology.
It was in 1995 that he finally assembled the right group of teenagers for his classes. That school year, DownBeat Magazine, the leading national jazz publication, honored Kupka's students as champions in the blues, pop and rock category.
"It was a terrific sign of the musical talent we had inherent at Hoover, and I found out I could actually teach in a comprehensive high school," Kupka said.
From that point on, Hoover turned into a high school musical powerhouse, and Kupka and his students traveled the world to showcase their musical talents, performing in places like Mexico, Europe, Australia and China.
After racking up years of accolades and connecting with hundreds of students and families, Kupka decided he would retire at the end of the 2009-2010 school year and focus more on performance and composition.