This year, Dr. Willow Manspeaker celebrates her 20th year at Stevenson. She is an extraordinary teacher and mentor to our students, as well as a valued member of our community. We sat down with her to check in as she marked this milestone teaching anniversary.

[This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.]

Q: Please share a little bit about your life before Stevenson. And, how did you find your way to Stevenson?

Willow Manspeaker: I grew up in northern California, southern Humboldt County, in a super hippie family (Willow Serene…I mean, c’mon). Coming from that small, unique environment, UC Santa Cruz was a natural fit for college. I loved the music program at UCSC so much that I stayed on and completed a Master’s degree. It was while I was finishing grad school that I met RLS legend Dr. Rob Klevan who was also moonlighting as the UCSC wind ensemble director (if you know Rob, you know that he always has at least three jobs!). When I started teaching in Santa Cruz after grad school, Rob was a huge resource for me, a mentor really. When he decided to retire from Stevenson five years later, he reached out to see if I’d be interested in applying for the gig, and that was, somehow, unbelievably, 20 years ago.

Q: This year marks your 20th year of teaching at Stevenson. As you reflect on your time here, what are some highlights that stand out?

W.M.: This is so hard to answer! I keep all of my old concert programs printed in a binder, and every so often I’ll flip through them like an old photo album. I’m always overcome with memories of how each concert felt and sounded, how each year the choirs evolve and shift, and how deep an impact all my students have had on me. Taking the Chamber Choir to New York City and performing at Carnegie Hall was an absolute career highlight – so amazing! The Rock Band Showcase in the Little Theater last year had an energy that was so different from what I think most people would expect from a high school music program – those bands and the audience shook that foundation! There are just so many snapshots like this for me, I feel so lucky to be part of these moments. 

Q: As a resident faculty member, you have raised your family here on campus. What has that experience been like and what stands out about this resident community of students and faculty members and their families?

W.M: I feel so tied to and supported by this residential community. Having access to a safe and beautiful campus where my daughter Wyatt can grow up, where she’s safe to be outside for hours at a time on her own, where she has hundreds of older student role models to look up to, these are priceless gifts. My husband, Jon (Kemmerer) and I are always grateful for our family’s place amongst the other dedicated residential faculty families. It’s a unique way to live, to be sure, but one that we are so happy to have found.

Q: Q: You are always so welcoming of our alumni and often include them in projects, including the Alumni Choral Project (2020). Share a little about what makes it special to spend time with our alumni and invite them to participate in these types of projects.

W.M: Music is a natural community builder. People create core memories linked to musical experiences that last a lifetime. To be able to bring together alumni from throughout the school’s history to create music together feels like a really natural way to help them maintain their connection to the school, to one another, and to music. I’m just honored to be a part of the process!

Q: Lastly, as you look to the future, what are some of the things you are most excited about professionally and personally?

Personally, I’m turning 50 this summer, so I’m excited to spend lots of fun days and nights celebrating with friends and family! Maybe a bit of traveling? And professionally, honestly, every new year feels like a fresh start. It’s one of the reasons I love the lifecycle of teaching so much because I have a chance to teach the same class to a new group of students with entirely different perspectives and backgrounds — that makes it seem completely new and different each time. I’m looking forward to many more of these wonderful years to come!