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Dave Brubeck inspired a strong finish to 2012

Overtures and finales. It turns out they’re not just important for starting and stopping concerts, but often memorable.

A simple G Major scale turned out to be my pick for the most unusual overture of 2012. It was Dec. 3 at the Fort Lewis College Community Concert Hall.

The newly named Four Corners Youth Symphony Association performed its winter concert. Artistic Director Nathan Lambert fielded three different ensembles. The Preparatory Strings, under the tutelage of Sharon Neufeld, began the program with a simple gesture – a unison scale, the very foundation of music-making.

The young musicians played the scale in whole notes, half, quarter and, finally, eighth notes. That was it – the bricks and mortar of music. They followed with two more pieces, but that spare scale stays with me.

Lech Usinowicz’s mid-level group, the Philharmonia, played more complicated fare: Leroy Anderson’s aptly titled “Plink, Plank, Plunk.” It’s a little pizzicato gem with plenty of humor. The musicians also performed a layered carol and Richard Meyer’s whimsical “Remote Control,” a splintered dash through Western music.

When the full youth orchestra took the stage, Lambert plunged into Mussorgsky, Anderson, and selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.” Augmented by FLC faculty members and music majors, the orchestra gave remarkably mature readings. The former Durango Youth Symphony has come a long way – another example of a small town doing things right.

December’s cultural fare has been particularly rich this year. Some events have been well attended, such as the Youth Symphony, Saturday’s Best Brass of Christmas, and Durango Choral Society’s family holiday concert.

In a two-week period, the FLC Music Department showcased all of its ensembles. The FLC Jazz Ensemble played to a good-sized crowd that demanded an encore. The ensemble played Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” my favorite finale of the season.

At the time, no one knew America’s legendary jazz man had only a few more days to live.

One day short of his 92nd birthday, Brubeck died Dec. 5. The son of a California ranch manager and church choir director, Brubeck originally wanted to become a veterinarian. But music had always been part of his childhood, too. His mother insisted her boys make their own music and even forbid a radio in their home.

The Brubeck brothers all played instruments and, very early, Dave began earning money as a piano player. The rest is history, as they say. This week, I revisited my early Brubeck records and got a pertinent call from Diane Van Den Berg Estes about the Brubeck-Durango connection.

Estes is former director of Durango Choral Society, and she got to know Brubeck when she accepted an invitation to come to Durango. He came in 1983,’87, and again in 1996. The choral society, Estes said, sang his “Mass To Hope” and two separate performances of “La Fiesta de la Posada.”

Now that’s a memory. And Brubeck is part of our cultural history – from those performances to this year’s “Take Five” encore.

jreynolds@durangoherald.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.