How We Came to Be

In March of 2020, a group of parents concerned about cuts being made to the Music Program, came together and commissioned a report by national expert Dr. John Benham (read the Benham Report here). Out of that effort, the Board of Trustees formed a Music Committee that is currently in the process of developing recommendations for our music program in MBUSD based on current research and best practices.

As the work of the Committee went forward in the summer and fall of 2020, that same group of parents, some of whom also serve as members of the Music Committee, realized that in order for the Music Program to reach its full potential as outlined in Dr. Benham’s Report, pathways need to be created to expand staffing, increase class offerings, and erect support structures for the faculty. Doing so would ensure both continuity and quality of the program in the years ahead. That initial group of parents realized that a grass roots organization needed to be formed in order to accomplish those goals.

The Manhattan Beach Music Coalition is the product of those rather humble beginnings. Designed as an organization by, and in service of, music families in the Manhattan Beach Community, we felt that a coalition style organization arose naturally from our grass roots origins, and that it reflected the true constitution of our community, in that it includes parents from all three disciplines (band, choir and orchestra) and across all grade levels.

The first and most urgent need we were confronted with was a lack of funding for basic music classes at the secondary level during the 2020-21 school year. As the uncertainty visited by Covid, coupled with the sudden shift to distance learning, threatened to impact some of the core music offerings in a way the Program was not likely to recover from, we entered into an historic agreement with MBEF to come together as a community to raise a portion of the funds needed to secure those basic music class offerings.

As an organization, we seek not only to raise the funds promised to the District via MBEF for the 2020-21 school year, but to also provide ongoing meaningful support and content to music families, students and faculty in the district. It is the Coalition’s goal to foster the musicians in our schools as they approach their music education in these changed times, with a focus on opportunities for students to flourish in connecting with, and exploring, their own creativity.

If you would like to join in our efforts, please let us know using the “Contact” tab in the menu bar. Thank you for your interest in the Manhattan Beach Music Coalition!

Who We Are

Karni Syed, President

With nearly a decade of experience with music in the District, Karni brings a robust and thorough understanding of all aspects of the Music Program to her role as President of the Coalition. With both of the Syed children having the opportunity to participate in all disciplines of the music program offered through MBUSD, Karni became a dedicated volunteer, and has proudly served on the Executive Board of the Mira Costa Band Program for eight years.


Susan Crain, Board Member

Susan brings years of involvement with the MBUSD Choir Program to her role as Board Member.

Andrea Custer, Board Member

Andrea’s experience with the Music Program began in 2011 when her oldest daughter took up the recorder as part of the band program at Pacific Elementary. She served as Honor Band “room mom” in 2013-2014, and volunteered throughout 2014-2017 at MBMS in support of the band program. During the 2018-2019 school year she volunteered as Chaperone Lead for the Mira Costa Marching Band & Colorguard, and the following year was Trip Lead for the Mira Costa Band Boosters. In 2020 she became Co-President of the Mira Costa Bands & Guard Boosters, while concurrently supporting her younger daughter in the Mira Costa Choirs. Her children have participated in all aspects of the music program in MBUSD, from band at all three school levels, to the Combined Orchestra at Mira Costa, to the Mira Costa Choirs. She is humbled and honored to be able to support the Music Program by serving as a MBMC Board Member, and thanks the community for forgiving her inability to carry a tune or play an instrument beyond the triangle.

Janet Dargan, Board Member & Secretary

A tireless volunteer for instrumental music throughout the District, Janet currently serves as President of the Mira Costa Orchestra Boosters. Not only does she support her son in his musical endeavors and enjoy an encyclopedic knowledge of instruments, Janet is also a musician in her own right.

John Dargan, Board Member

MBMC is proud to benefit from John’s extensive experience serving in various capacities for non profit organizations on two continents. John brings a keen eye for detail, and a thorough understanding of the history of the music program in the District, both of which serve him well as MBMC’s Vice President of Advocacy.

Ilia Dickey, Board Member

Ilia Dickey is the Founder and CEO of Centerpeace, a public benefit corporation that specializes in purpose-based branding and communications. Centerpeace’s approach empowers individuals, business and community organizations with mindfulness-based development strategies, education, and tools to cultivate compassionate and conscious connections. 

Ilia is driven to make mindful leadership a mainstream movement. Before becoming a mindfulness teacher through Berkley’s Greater Good Science Foundation and The Awareness Institute , Ilia was a lawyer and advocate. She built her career on the unique ability to raise awareness, forge authentic relationships, and identify mutually beneficial connections for Governors, U.S. Presidents, Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit and community organizations. 

Offering over 25 years of corporate and government communications, public policy and bilingual marketing experience, she is adept at working in highly regulated and politically sensitive industries. Ilia has been sought for her expertise in mitigating project opposition and corporate positioning in both the domestic and international markets. Ilia’s operates as a regional resource for numerous multinational advertising and public relations agencies offering her keen acumen for business development and strategic partnerships. 

Ilia has dedicated her time to several community and nonprofit organizations including the DaVinci Fund Board and the Social Emotional Alliance for California. She served on the California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund Board for 6 years. She was Board President for the National Board of Directors of Kids Korps USA, a nonprofit that engages youth and families in community service. She and her husband support She is also Voices for Children, a nonprofit that funds Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA’s). They have been active members of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) for 17 years. They live in Manhattan Beach, California with their two boys. Ilia, received her B.A. in Geography & Economic Development from the University of Arizona, and a Juris Doctor from Arizona State University.

Michele Gentille, Board Member & Treasurer

Michele began working with the District’s Music Program seven years ago when her daughter, Samantha, participated in the MBMS Choir Program.  She assisted Mrs. Gold-Pollak with her fundraising and recordkeeping for three years.  She became the treasurer for the MCHS Choir Boosters in Samantha’s freshman year, and has been happily performing in that role for four years.  She has also served as treasurer for the MCHS Bands & Guard Boosters for the past three years, and is currently the President, of the MCHS Winterguard Teams Boosters.

In her spare time, Michele works as a forensic auditor for the firm Gentille & Company, where she specializes in consulting services performed on behalf of third party profit participants in the motion picture and television industries.

The music programs, and especially the extraordinary teachers, within the Manhattan Beach Unified School District have helped my daughter grow into the confident, creative and caring person that she is today.  It is imperative that we, as a community, continue to nourish and expand these essential programs, so that future generations of MBUSD students may also benefit by their participation in them.

Carolyn Mukai, Board Member

A true “band family,” Carolyn has been proud to see all three of her sons performing on stage with the MBUSD Music Program, a tradition that began when her oldest asked to play the “shiny instrument” when he was in 4th grade. From those humble beginnings, the Mukai family has become home to two accomplished trumpet players and one alto and baritone saxophone musician. Her two older sons have also marched with the Mira Costa Marching Band, a tradition her rising freshman is eager to continue. Her oldest son has continued the musical legacy, currently both marching and playing in a performance ensemble at Purdue University.

A tireless volunteer, Carolyn began her service at Pennekamp Elementary School, where she was a Growing Great Garden docent, as well as Vice President of Fundraising and  later VP of Operations for their PTA Executive Board. Throughout the years she has continued her involvement with the PTA, and is currently in her second year as Vice President of Programs and Events for the Mira Costa PTSA. She has also been on the District Green Committee since 2014. Carolyn further serves on the District Area Council, formerly as the Green Chair and currently as the Financial Secretary. Carolyn’s support of the arts extends to her years of service as a Young at Art Docent that spanned her sons’ time at elementary and middle school. 

Because of the benefits the Music Program has afforded her sons, Carolyn has been glad to donate her time and talents to the Mira Costa Band Boosters. Bringing expertise and detailed consideration to several Band Booster events and projects, Carolyn has served in various capacities on the Band Booster Board for many years, and is currently Co-Chair of Marching Band Operations. Carolyn jokes that the musical gene skipped a generation as she herself does not play an instrument, but it has been a great joy in her life to watch her sons thrive in large part due to the social connections and sense of confidence they’ve experienced because of their involvement in the Music Program. She knows the music program can be a safe haven for the quieter students, or those who might otherwise be overlooked. She feels passionately about preserving the Music Program so that it may continue to play an equally critical role in the lives of future Manhattan Beach students for generations to come.