New beginnings at the Encinitas School of Music

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Top of the Hill Gang members (left to right) David Murray, Marc Tayer, Stephen Rollins, Trisha Chavarria, Julian Lewis, Lance Gomez. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Rollins)

Charlene Pulsonetti

For those with a calling to help others, little or nothing can stand in their way when it comes to fulfilling their purpose.

For Trisha Chavarria, chief financial officer of the Encinitas School of Music, a lifelong passion for music and a background in elementary education has resulted in a fulfilling career as well as a source of personal strength.

Chavarria and her husband, Stephen Rollins, who serves as the organization’s president, became involved in the school — which was already established — in 1999, and in 2002 they became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“We started getting more teachers that wanted to be here,” Rollins says, explaining that they had to add more instructor rooms and a recording studio.

Their team focuses on music theory and the foundations of music when teaching voice, piano and keyboard, percussion, guitar and bass as well as wind and string instruments, and what sets them apart is the opportunity for students to gain experience performing for live audiences.

Encinitas School of Music students perform at the Encinitas Spring Street Festival on April 10. (Photo by Charlene Pulsonetti)
Encinitas School of Music students perform at the Encinitas Spring Street Festival on April 10. (Photo by Charlene Pulsonetti)

“Whenever there’s an event with the city of Encinitas, the DEMA (Encinitas 101 MainStreet), even the Museum of Making Music and those places, they call us up and say, ‘Hey, we are having a special event do you have your student groups that want to perform?’” Rollins says.

He adds, “Other 501(c)(3)s will call us first and give us a chance to do our thing because what we strongly believe in is performance.”

The school has several ensembles of different genres and players of related age groups and experience levels.

“We are fortunate to have a great staff that can do anything,” Rollins says. “Whatever the group wants to do, we are able to accommodate them.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they had to pivot to ensure they could continue to support themselves and their students.

“A lot of people didn’t have the right apparatus,” Chavarria explains. “(In video calls) I couldn’t see their hands directly, or I would see them from the side.”

Some students had to leave, but she says, “It’s coming back — it took a long time.”

The arts were a source of comfort for many during the pandemic. For Chavarria, it’s been therapeutic for a long time.

“I have multiple sclerosis,” she says. “The piano is therapy, I have to get the signals back down to my hand.”

In addition to working through MS, she had been receiving dialysis three days a week for more than four years.

Music has saved me, this school has saved me, working here has saved me.”

— Trisha Chavarria of the Encinitas School of Music

“Music has saved me, this school has saved me, working here has saved me,” she affirms.

So earlier this year, when restrictions were lifted and the Encinitas Spring Street Fair was given a green light to proceed, students and instructors got to work.

Chavarria, who sings in the Top of the Hill Gang band, hurried to prepare for their first public performance since 2020.

But hours before they were set to take the stage, Chavarria received a phone call that would change her life — a donor kidney became available, and she was next on the list to receive it.

Though it was necessary to go forward with the surgery, Chavarria admits that it was a difficult decision to make.

“There were months and months of rehearsal (to prepare for the event),” she says. “They had to scramble for a singer.”

Their band made it work, though, and as they took the stage at 2 p.m., Chavarria was preparing for surgery.

“We’re dedicating (the performance) to her today, all of it,” ESOM vice president Dan Roberts said on the day of the event.

Fortunately, the procedure was a success.

“It took about a week or so (with dialysis) to wake up the kidney,” Chavarria says. “Now I have to honor this 20-year-old donor who died in a car accident. I’m trying to take really good care of it.”

“I feel like I’m getting my life back, I really do, because it wasn’t my life,” she adds. “Dialysis told me what to eat, what to drink, how much I could do, and where to be and when.”

Encinitas School of Music students (left to right) Slater Todd, Ava Lorch, Charlie Southernland, Forest Southernland and Sofia Todd perform at Support Small Business Day at Leucadia Roadside Park on Nov. 27, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Rollins)
Encinitas School of Music students (left to right) Slater Todd, Ava Lorch, Charlie Southernland, Forest Southernland and Sofia Todd perform at Support Small Business Day at Leucadia Roadside Park on Nov. 27, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Rollins)

Chavarria credits the technicians at her dialysis center, the hospital staff, and those closest to her for getting her through difficult times.

“(Rollins) has been there for me,” she says. “He’s my caregiver for the transplant, he’s my nurse. He does everything for me. I’m so blessed to have him — you can’t do this by yourself.”

She’s also grateful for her older sister, Linda Boles, who provided emotional support and transportation to and from the doctor.

Chavarria will be easing back into work soon. As the school’s bookkeeper and instructor to young students, she’s instrumental to the organization.

“They’re pliable,” she says of the age group she works with. “I’ve known a lot of my students for a really long time, I’ve watched them grow up. I have a wall with their heights marked.”

“We still get cards and calls from students,” Rollins adds, sharing that many are now in college and even having their own families.

“How special is that to make a difference?” Chavarria says.

After a time of darkness, it’s a time of new beginnings for many. Chavarria and Rollins are delighted to work with their team to bring music back into the lives of their students and their community.

Anything, it seems, is possible once more.


Charlene Pulsonetti is a local freelance writer.

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