Arrow-right Camera

Washington Voices

Ex-student calls Centennial teacher – as Grammy winner

Centennial Middle School band director Kyle Bosch has been teaching music to students for 30 years, 27 of them in the West Valley School District.

In all those years, he had never received a phone call like he did Jan. 27.

Former student Christian Pepin, now 26, called. After a few minutes of catching up, Pepin told him that he had won a Grammy the night before.

“I wish I would have recorded it,” Bosch said.

Pepin won his Grammy with the band Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which won best tropical Latin album, beating out such artists as Carlos Vivas, Los Angeles Azules and Marc Anthony.

Bosch remembered Pepin as someone who loved band class. Bosch demanded his percussionists learn how to read notes of music. At the time, Pepin said, he wondered when he would ever use that skill, little knowing he would grow up to become a professional musician.

“He was a big influence in my life,” Pepin said.

Bosch said Pepin thanked him “for kicking his butt.” He said it is important for percussionists to know other instruments that use notes, such as the bells.

The night of the Grammy Awards, Pepin didn’t attend the ceremony. He had rehearsal with another band with which he performs. Suddenly, his phone started to ring with friends telling him about his award.

He said rehearsal was canceled for that night. He took time to reflect upon his career. He didn’t celebrate, but went home and fell asleep on his couch.

But the next day, he started making phone calls. He called his mother, his brother and he called Bosch.

Pepin said his grandfather, Papo Pepin, is a well-known conga player who played with big names in Latin music including Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and Ruben Blades. Growing up, Pepin didn’t know what his grandfather did for a living. His family was very secretive about it and even tried to push him away from music.

“It’s a tough business,” Pepin said, and they wanted to protect him from that. It wasn’t until he started listening to a recording by Marc Anthony – who also has worked with his grandfather – that his mother told him the family secret.

Pepin eventually moved from Spokane to the Seattle area, where his music career started to take off. He was put in contact with members of Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which is based in San Francisco, who invited him to record a couple of tracks on their new album. They liked him so much he recorded all but one track. Eventually, he moved to the Bay Area and still performs with the band now and then, but works as a clinician and performs with other bands, as well.

“It would have been impossible if it wasn’t for a lot of stuff that Kyle taught me,” Pepin said.

“He’s been back since,” Bosch said of the years since Pepin left Centennial. “He helped with the percussion kids.”

Pepin said coming back to help was important to him.

“As a musician, it’s very important to give back and inspire young people,” he said.

Bosch remembers Pepin as having incredibly fast hands and he said he knew Pepin had an ability to do something with music.

He said his students have gone on to do many things. Some of them are teachers and maybe a handful are performers. There is, however, only one Grammy winner.

“I was pretty blown away,” Bosch said.