Debbie Croft: College student returns home to play a tune

February 15, 2013 


She loves photography, sports, designing and making jewelry, and of course, music. As a member of the Mariposa County High School Grizzly Band, she often learned to play an instrument to fill a need within the band.

Melissa Rose Mela Caputo was named after her grandmother who passed away only hours before she was born. Her nickname, though, was Mud Muffin. She always managed to find a mud puddle to plop herself down in when she was old enough to toddle around the ranch.

Raised in Mariposa, her parents, Gerry and Daryel Lee, own and operate Mariposa Coffee Co. She's the youngest of three children.

As drum major with the Grizzlies, there were hours of practice, discipline, training and summer camps where she could refine her technique with other musicians. Melissa was the first drum major in the high school's history to win a drum major award.

According to Phil Smith, director of the Grizzlies, she won first place in the free style category, and received her award at the 2010 Selma Marching Band Festival.

"We had to buy her special boots. They were classy, and expensive," said her dad. "But I never complained. When she put them on, it was like a personal challenge to be the best she could be."

She graduated from high school, Class of 2011, as one of eight Valedictorians. Out of those eight, seven were involved in the school's music program, to Smith's delight.

She plays six instruments, and is learning to play guitar. When she isn't playing bassoon for her college orchestra, that is.

On a music scholarship, this Westmont College sophomore has already traveled to China on tour with the orchestra. This month she travels again, performing in communities along the Sierra.

Melissa and the Westmont College orchestra will appear Monday at 8 p.m. in the high school's Fiester Auditorium. Admission is free, but a goodwill offering will be accepted.

The whole community is behind this event, opening their homes to the students for sleeping arrangements during their brief stay in town, said her dad, Gerry Caputo. And she's excited to come home, perform and see friends.

Westmont College is a Christian liberal arts college on a private campus in the hills above Santa Barbara. Westmont is rated among the top 100 colleges in the country.

Melissa chose this school, partly because of the challenges she'd be presented with, and partly because the orchestra is phenomenal. Being so close to the beach was a plus as well.

"This concert provides an opportunity to hear a world-class orchestra," Gerry Caputo added.

He continued by saying how fortunate the high school is to have Smith, who recognizes the value of music education, and goes to any length to provide Mariposa's high school students with an exceptional program.

One recent example of this was in 2011 when the Grizzlies were presented with a Grammy. Melissa was one of four students to accept the award the night of June 2. On stage was Shiela E., a Grammy Award-winning percussionist, to do the honors. The band was also given a check for $5,500.

Several months before, the Grizzlies had the thrill of performing in New York City's Veterans Day Parade.

"What they learn from music enhances their future learning and growth," Gerry stated. "It broadens their scope of the world, and opens doors for them."

Melissa's parents have supported music education as long as their kids have been in school, and even fought when necessary to keep music in the Mariposa schools.

As for Melissa's future goals, another trip to a foreign land tugged at her heart and helped set the course for her career plans.

On a short-term mission trip to the Philippines, she worked with Project Destiny, a sanctuary for street kids, most of whom are being forced into slavery.

Melissa's major in international law will enable her to go after those who run slave trading, and to protect the victims and their families.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at

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