Music to the ears
Music in the Mountains ‘Goes to School’

The Fort Lewis College Men’s Choir performs at the Community Concert Hall for the Music in the Mountains Goes to School program last Thursday. MITM is partnering with Durango School District 9-R and Fort Lewis to bring music appreciation to La Plata County’s younger generations./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Stew Mosberg

Durango students are getting an earful thanks to an innovative collaboration between Music in the Mountains, Fort Lewis College and area schools. Music in the Mountains “Goes to School” is stepping into the void left by budget cuts and bringing music appreciation to Durango’s younger generation.

Although enjoying music might seem basic, understanding it as an art form requires some guidance, much like acquiring a taste for certain food. The nuances of a classical movement, the rhythm of a tribal dance, the riff of a jazz piece, can be perplexing.

MITM recently offered such a learning experience at the Community Concert Hall, where third- and fourth-graders from 11 schools were treated to musical performances by students and faculty of the FLC Music Department. On a sunny Thursday morning last week, two shifts of more than 600 children each, filled the Community Concert Hall to the rafters.

Having that many 9 and 10 year olds descend on the venue might conjure visions of herding cats. But the entry and exit was made relatively simple with the assistance of volunteer ushers and the teachers. Anne Beach, MITM’s Associate Director of Programs and Education, and Jan Derck, board member and liaison for the Conservatory and Education programs, coordinated the event with military precision.

Jonathan R. Latta, Director of Percussion Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at Fort Lewis, opened the program with an introduction to the music, the musicians, and their instruments. He then offered some background on the works and the various composers. Dressed in black and wearing a matching vest and bow tie emblazoned with a sheet music pattern, Latta announced that he was going to take the audience on a musical journey “around the world.” He then blew a whistle and started the morning off with the pulsating Brazilian Carnaval rhythms of Batucada.” He further engaged the youngsters by inviting them to clap to the beat; first holding up one finger, then two, then three, until the audience was clapping numerous times to accompany the band.

After the Percussion Ensemble’s exciting South American beat, the College’s Men’s Choir performed the music of India and Romania, adding a delightfully harmonic contrast to the morning. A woodwind quintet, a string trio, a clarinet quartet, and a sax quartet followed, with pieces by Cambini, Shostakovich, Gounod and Brahms. The abbreviated scores touched on music related to Germany, Russia and France.

The rich and far-reaching virtual journey ended in America with Tim Farrell and the FLC Jazz Band playing Duke Ellington’s “Tutti for Cootie.”

Recognizing his audience and the constrained timeframe, Latta carefully selected the music and the length of time each was played so the kids didn’t lose interest, yet still had exposure to the broadest range of styles and instruments. From oboe and flute to saxophone and violin, the loudest response from was for the guitars and drums, and the students expressed great enthusiasm during the brass ensemble’s performance.

The Fort Lewis Woodwind Quintet plays for more than 600 members of Durango’s fourth and fifth grade classes on Thursday./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

MITM’s educational outreach program was initiated in 1999 by Conductor Emeritus Mischa Semanitzky with the assistance of former MITM President, Ann Flatten. Flatten, who was present at last Thursday’s presentation, won the support of John Pennington, formerly of the FLC Music Department, to put on programs for grade school children.

Anne Beach is quick to give credit for this year’s “Goes to School” program to Linda Montgomery, who conducted about 20 workshops in each of Durango’s 9-R elementary and middle schools. The formal programs began last September. Since then, Fort Lewis College Music professors have continued “to add great depth to our program through workshops in the schools during the school year,” Beach said.

MITM’s educational endeavor doesn’t end there. The festival sponsors numerous musical opportunities for young people throughout the Four Corners. The Talent Search program, for example, is comprised of promising students nominated by their teachers. “The program offers partially funded private lessons to need-based students to enhance their talent and enrich their school’s bands and orchestras,” she said.

Music in the Mountains also provides percussion instruction at Denier Youth Services Center, where FLC’s Latta brings drum sets to the detention facility to teach the students. MITM believes at-risk students learn and can practice cooperation, self-control, self-esteem, courage and gratitude through musical expression.

The “Taste of Music” hosts third- and fourth-grade students from Durango, Dolores, Ignacio, Silverton, Pagosa Springs, Cortez and Mancos. In addition to learning about various styles of music, the curriculum also teaches youngsters concert etiquette.

Another particularly enjoyable program is the “Instrument Petting Zoo,” which is brought into three elementary schools. It is a pilot program that provides hands-on instrument tryouts, with several Fort Lewis music majors offering instruction and encouragement to the budding musicians.

“The program strives to supplement music education in our schools by expanded learning opportunities for our area students,” said Beach. “Our schools committee meets annually with area music instructors to discuss programs and possibilities for the next school year. We are enthusiastic supporters who recognize the difference that music can make in one’s life.”

Reflecting the same sentiment, Flatten said the original purpose of the educational out-reach program was to encourage children to appreciate music, “which,” she quickly points out, “has been shown to improve studies in math, science, and reading ... all the arts.”

Now in his second year at the college, Latta talks enthusiastically about his collaboration with MITM. Together, they hope to expand the “Goes to School” program and bring music to schools throughout the year and culminate with a finale performance at the Community Concert Hall. That’s music to the ears. •



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