By Laura Quezada News Review Staff Writer–
Burroughs High School (BHS) Band/Orchestra/Choir Teacher Amber Farris Petersen and BHS Band Teacher Brian Cosner are cousins. They weren’t playmates as children but got to know each other as adults. Their heritage of being raised in a singing family benefits their alma mater, BHS. Both of these dedicated teachers voice a similar sentiment: It is about the students.
Petersen wants “to provide a place for students to make music and learn how to do that. It’s as much about making music as it is about building friendships and learning how to work together, but also providing what I had when I went through school here. There was a really strong and robust performing arts program when I went here. And I think that the only reason why I knew I could go and major in music was because of what I was given here. And I want to make sure that it opens doors for other students as well.”
Cosner says, “ When I was in high school was really where I felt like I was starting to see all of these opportunities where I could practice music and put that passion into practice and meet people and where I started to become aware of what a fantastic musical community Ridgecrest has. I realized we had a really a lot of top-level musical talent here, and it can come from anywhere. And I want to have as many options to create as many opportunities as possible for students to discover that for themselves and carry that tradition forward.”
He gives a lot of credit to many musicians in Ridgecrest, especially Simon and Lisa Austin. “He was my band teacher, and they’ve both been invaluable resources as I took this job, and they’ve been helping me out a lot.”
Petersen is gifted with quite a voice. “Most of my family sang, so it didn’t feel like a special thing,” says Petersen. “It was just what everybody did. My granddad sang, and my mom sang. I remember my parents did a lot of CLOTA (Community Light Opera and Theatre Association). And I remember them singing and us learning all the music and singing along. I think my first solo was in fourth grade, I sang for the talent show.’
At a very early age, she took piano lessons and Suzuki strings, “But things didn’t sound like I wanted them to.” Things started sounding right when she went to school. “It was probably in kindergarten in music. We had elementary music all through school when I was going. We even had an honor choir that the music teachers encouraged different students to audition for at the elementary level. Like I said, most of my family sang, so it didn’t feel like a special thing. It was just what everybody did. So I think it probably wasn’t until that solo that I started realizing, ‘Oh, maybe I have something even more.’”
After BHS, Petersen continued her music education and began teaching. “I started as a grad teaching assistant at Cal State Los Angeles. I taught private voice lessons, Opera Chorus, University Chorus, and the beginning voice class for non-music majors. After I graduated with my master’s degree, they hired me as an adjunct teacher to continue similar roles.”
During her Master’s program, Petersen was selected to perform in Italy with the Opera Festival di Roma’s production of Suor Angelica in the role of Principessa. She explains, “I stayed for a master’s degree because I realized there was so much about the voice as an instrument that I didn’t know yet. And I really wanted to stay with my teacher. I considered going on to do my doctorate because I really enjoyed teaching at the college level, especially that one-on-one, you have so many rapid ‘aha’ moments, and it’s really rare. So part of looking into DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) programs, I applied for a Sally Casanova pre-doctoral scholarship which is to help more women, as well as more diverse candidates, make it into DMA or Ph.D. programs. I decided to audition for apprenticeship programs that are supposed to help bridge the gap between graduation from university but not yet old enough or mature enough voices that can perform on the full operatic stage. A lot of students from around the US and other places went to Italy, in this instance, to stage two different operas and then some scene programs and recitals. We were there for almost five weeks. It was pretty awesome.”
After earning her Master’s degree, she taught at a private K-12 school in Los Angeles. “Then I met my husband and moved back here and started teaching at Cerro Coso. I started my own voice studio. When Simon Austin retired, I realized I wanted to come back in and start teaching here at my alma mater.”
Surrounded by singing as a child, Cosner recounts, “I remember singing just kind of being a thing that was always happening in my house and with my family. I don’t remember it real well, but my older siblings and my parents talk about me walking around, just mimicking whatever music I was hearing. ‘Peter and the Wolf’ is one that they said I used to walk around singing a lot. They said I would walk around singing that when I was three. I don’t remember, they tell me it was pitch-perfect. I thought singing was just something that everybody knew how to do. I remember being kind of surprised when I realized that wasn’t something that was a regular part of everybody’s family. I just always loved music.”
Cosner is a highly diverse musician. “I really think my strength as a musician is kind of as a Universalist.” The instrument he has studied most is the piano. “The instrument that is most applicable to my job and that I’m able to relate to students the most would be the trumpet. In addition to those, I am a percussionist, I play the drum set. I play almost all valve brass instruments, the trumpet, the euphonium, the tuba, and the French horn, and I have rudimentary skills in the trombone. I’m basically still teaching myself the woodwind instruments, just enough so that I can relate to and give feedback to my students who are also learning.
“I think I’m a better singer because I play piano, and I think I’m a better trumpet player because I sing. And I think I’m a better percussionist because I played so many different instruments in an ensemble.” He left Ridgecrest with a full scholarship to San Diego Mesa College and returned to Ridgecrest to finish his degree online, having never thought about making his home anywhere else.”
Cosner gained experience through volunteering. ”My band teacher, Simon Austin, always invited me over once a week at lunch or a couple of times a week after school to help coach jazz band or jazz combo. I would work with his pianist, his trumpet players, his rhythm section, or whatever could use a little bit of bolstering.“
He also returned to theatrical performing and singing with The Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society ( RMES ). “My involvement in there started to extend beyond just performing on the stage to assisting directors. I started running more vocal rehearsals and helping musicians, helping singers with their pieces, which then turned into putting together live music and live accompaniment for some of our shows.” Eventually, he conducted the orchestra for Christmas Carol and realized that was what he wanted to do. “That was when I realized that I wanted to teach and would really like to teach music.
“This is my second year teaching middle and high school bands. This gig is not without its fair dose of karma, as much as I love Mr. Austin and Mr. Locher. I know there were days when they did not love me. I was an obnoxious kid with a trumpet, and, of course, the trumpet players in my band sometimes are my worst nightmares because they’re me 20 years ago.”