Keeping music alive in schools

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Professional and student musicians participated in the Music in the Mountains dinner and performance at Durango High School. The evening was a fundraiser to buy and repair instruments for the high school's bands and orchestra. From left are local jazz musician Jeff Solon; DHS music students Maryna Pohlman and Heather Schadt; DHS instrumental music teacher Katharine Reed; students Ally Betts, Antonio Peņa-Riess and Jessica Pohlman; and Music in the Mountains Conservatory Artistic Director Arkady Fomin.

In recent years, it has been common for the arts, including music, to be the first things cut when school districts are hit with a budget crunch. While I understand why administrators have to do it and how much they hate doing it, study after study shows the arts help keep kids in school, give them skills to perform better in school and enrich their lives as adults.

A tightened budget had led to an instrument crunch at Durango High School, with both a shortage of quality instruments and instruments that required repair. Go-getter band and orchestra teacher Katharine Reed and the Durango Instrumental Booster Club (how cool is that?) decided to hold a fundraiser to ameliorate the situation. Fortunately, they had both a group of committed parents and Music in the Mountains in their corner to make the event a galloping success.

Mike and Nancy Hoyt welcomed the 225 people or so who came to hear (and be served by) more than 100 students showing what they're learning. It was such a popular ticket, they had to turn a few disappointed folks away.

Special guests jazz musician Jeff Solon, who is the assistant Jazz Band director, and Arkady Fomin, the artistic director of Music in the Mountains Conservatory, both taught the students (Fomin spent the day with the orchestra) and performed with them.

The evening started with Debussy's “Claire de Lune,” with Heather Schardt on piano, and the allegro molto movement from Kabalevsky's Violin Concerto in C Major, Opus 48, featuring Nolan Reed on violin.

Students then served the salad, before the Jazz Band took the stage to play “Killer on the Keys” by Larry Neeck and the world premiere of “Katin' Around,” which Solon composed after the Durango Friends of the Arts commissioned it.

The band ended on a Latin note with “Perdido” by Juan Tizol and “Povo” by Freddie Hubbard, arranged by Erik Morales.

Toes were still tapping as guests dived into the main course, a choice of oven-roasted chicken, smoked ribs donated by Sunnyside Farms and facilitated by Ian Chamberlain, or vegetarian lasagna, with sides of roasted potatoes and green beans almondine.

After a brief interlude of “January,” by Scott D. Davis, with Hannah Robertson on piano, the grand finale arrived at the tables – gourmet cupcakes prepared by the DHS culinary arts classes.

Other folks who helped get the food together were Durango Joe's Coffee, Bread, Durango Embroidery, the school district's director of nutrition Krista Garand, kitchen manager Steven Scholz and cooks Heather McDonald, Niki WineHolt and Tabitha Smouse.

Students did most of the serving with the help of parents and co-chairwomen Christine Phillips and Martha Sandner and their committee of Mike Phillips, Daniel Sandner, Susan Kraus and Chris Wilbur.

The cafeteria didn't look so cafeteriaish after William and Jennifer Sawyer and Andy and Gracie Parker's donated decorations were assembled by chairwoman Pam Frech, co-chairpeople Jennifer Sawyer and Gracie Parker and Jim Muller, Kraus, Carrie Betts, Ivy and Jason Thornburn, Gina Petty, Virginia Hedges, Susie Robertson, Allisa Waldo, Eric and Kay Kiesel and Bitten Skartvedt and Charles Schwaebe.

The evening ended with an orchestral performance with Fomin. The young musicians performed the largo and allegro movements from Vivaldi's “L'Estro Armonico,” Piazzolla's “Melodia en la menor” and “Oblivion,” Shostakovich's “Organ Grinder Polka” and Johann Strauss' “Pizzicato Polka.”

You're sitting at home thinking, “Boy, I'm sorry I missed that.” I can't do anything about the food, but for a couple of short snippets of the concert, visit my column on our website,, to link to Music in the Mountains videos courtesy of Gordon Thomas.

Here are some of the comments I've heard: “An amazing evening from beginning to end,” “Wow, I understand why the marching band has tripled in size,” and “Talk about drawing in kids who love music.”

Ticket sales weren't the only income raised by the event. Cindy Bonitz-Ryan led a silent auction committee that also included the Kiesels and Nancy Shanks. As always seems to be the case, a number of businesses, organizations and individuals donated silent auction items. People ask me why I include at least some of the donors, and I'll tell you why. If you patronize a business that you has supported one of your favorite causes, I want you to go in and thank them for that support.

So at the dinner show, some of the donors included 6th Street Hair Salon and Day Spa, A Shared Blanket, Durango Sports Zone, Eagle Block, Katzin Music, Karyn Gabaldon Fine Arts, Lanka Blue, Maria's Bookshop, Mountain Bike Specialists, Music in the Mountains, Nature Revealed, Ski Barn, Stella and Dot, Sunrise Dentistry, Velvet Monkey Haute Coiffure, Aria Therapeutics, Bank of Colorado, Coco Palms Tanning Salon, Del Sol and Insight Energy.

If you want to support the Durango High School bands and orchestra, make out your check to Durango High School Instrumental Music and mail it to Durango High School, Attn: Katharine Reed, 2390 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301.

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Enjoying chocolate and roses for their birthdays – no wait, that's a twofer with Valentine's Day – are Karen Keller, Suzanne Parker, Christine Phillips, Kristi Nelson Cohen, Wesley Campano, Wayne Frisbie, Cameron Kelley, Daxtin Kunch, Hunter Martin, Gary Russell, Ryan Dugan, Ryan Johnson, Rachael Bennett, Kylee Colford, Rowean Crader, Wyatt Bartel, Billye Dunkerly, Joseph Grinnan, Melinda Johnson, Gary Steinbach, Brigitte Wahl, Diane Milner, Peggy Hoffman, Kelsey Jordan and Jerry Maxey.

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Feeling the love in the air for their Valentine's Day-week anniversaries are Daren and Kim Caldwell and Kurt and Lisa Raymond.

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Here's how to reach me:; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and contact information for all items.

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