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In an educational atmosphere where performing arts are often a low priority, Steven Traugh finds himself in a pleasant position.

He teaches music to the students of Garrison Elementary School, a performing arts magnet in Oceanside where Traugh molds young minds with melody and rhythm.

When he’s not educating, he’s composing and playing music — or producing on multitude of educational videos.

I contacted Traugh because he is the violin teacher of Alex Lopex, the son of Liliana Lopez, who I photographed for last week’s installment of the San Diego People Project.

After photographing Traugh, I asked him a series of questions that will lead me to next week’s installation of the project.

Name: Steven Traugh

Age: 60

Occupation: I’m an educator. There’s a multiplicity of things I do — producer, author, educator.

Part of town: Vista

Why do you teach kids?

You know, I never wanted to be a teacher. I kind of backed into it. Every time I would work with kids, which would basically be to supplement my income, these magical things would happen and, I didn’t want to be a teacher because I didn’t think there was any status in it.

It’s like, playing in a rock-and-roll band is a cool thing to do, and when I got out of college, I always wanted to be a conductor or composer guy, but it seems like I’m a pretty good musician, but I was born to teach. It’s just been a natural thing for me. I seem to be able to get with a group of kids and I just, especially young children, I know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling. I can remember what it was like to be 6 or 7 and what was interesting to me. So there’s kind of an immediate connection and ever since I started, we’ve put together award-winning groups — it just happened, I didn’t even have to work at it.

What is it like to be 6 or 7?

Well, I think the thing you remember is you want to play and that kids are designed to learn by playing. Play is the way we learn the best. If you look at any mammal — what do mammals do to learn to be successful adults? They play at the behaviors. They practice hunting. They practice pouncing. They practice running. They practice fighting with each other — whatever it takes. Kids do the same thing. If you watch them, they naturally play at the things that are developmentally where they are. So if you remember that and you make whatever you want them to learn playful, they get it faster and remember it longer than if you take some other kind of drill approach.

What sort of magical things have happened?

Well, I started out working with a group of kids playing percussion instruments and all of a sudden, their attention span got longer — I’m starting to hear from the teachers. And their self-esteem picked up. And then after I was with them for a while, every time they would perform, they had such focus and such creativity, that we went from this little group of kids off the street in East L.A. to where we were actually performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl in their biggest concert of the year. All of these magical things happened.

And then these same kids — these are middle school aged kids — when they went to high school, they were presidents of the senior class. And I had one boy come in and say, “Look what I’ve invented.” And this was back in the ’70s. I said, “What is it?” He says, “It’s a synthesizer.” And this was way before synthesizers were popular. And he went on to be recruited right out of high school by Xerox Corporation to develop software and hardware for computers. And it was just story after story after story about how these kids became extraordinary high school students and even into college.

— SAM HODGSON

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