If you studied music at Fort Lewis College chances are you took some courses with the late Dr. Mark Walters. If you’ve ever seen the Southwest Civic Winds perform, Durango’s local community wind instrument ensemble, chances are you saw them with Walters as well. He was an important figure to both the college and the band, serving as a music professor and director of bands in the Music Department at Fort Lewis College from 1996 to 2019, as well as one of the founders of Southwest Civic Winds.
Walters, who died earlier this year, will be honored for his contributions as both teacher, musician and all-around good dude with a performance Friday by the Southwest Civic Winds, at the Community Concert Hall at FLC.
Formed 11 years ago by both Walters and Ruth Katzin, former owner of Katzin Music, the ensemble is a local nonprofit organization that was formed to get former musicians, people who may have shelved their instruments years ago, back to playing.
“Mark thought there’s plenty of adults and plenty of people who are not music majors, people who maybe have had a 20- or 30-year layoff from playing,” said Jared Wright, the ensembles artistic director, who was also a former student and colleague of Walters. “He thought they would find those folks, and then they founded a community band.”
Friday’s performance will feature upward of 50 musicians in the band, some who currently play with the ensemble, others returning to honor Walters. Wright admits that’s a bit “on the high end” when it comes to the number of musicians, “but it’s really nice to have all of these people coming back to play this show” he said.
Some of the pieces performed at the show will include Leroy Anderson’s “Clarinet Candy” featuring the entire clarinet section, Julius Fucik’s “Florentiner March” and Johannes Hanssen’s “Valdres,” which are two marches Walters was quite fond of performing, as well as the premier of an original piece titled “An Inviting Chord,” written by FLC music student Nate Murphy.
“A part of Mark’s legacy was encouraging young students to develop into professionals and contribute to the musical world,” Wright said. “So, whenever we would get the chance to premier a work, he loved that. So we’re going to continue that tradition at this concert.”
The stories of hanging with the man and talking all sorts of music and other topics from some of his former students seem to be endless. Wright recalls being a freshman at FLC and showing up to class fresh from seeing rock band The Eagles in Colorado Springs, where Walters spoke up about his hero Joe Walsh (arguably the best Eagle.) His former student and colleague in Southwest Civic Winds and local trumpet player Chris Ross recalls meeting Walters and becoming friends over a game of pool. Back when FLC students would hitchhike up the Front Hill, Walters picked this writer up, where in two minutes’ time, we had an in-depth discussion about the talent of banjo player Bela Fleck.
“There are countless people out there who have that exact same experience, and that’s what made Mark very special, was the fact that he had the ability to not only connect with people in a very short amount of time, whether it was a 90-second ride up the Front Hill, or four or five years of being a student, or transitioning from being a student to being a colleague, he could connect with anyone at any level,” Wright said. “That’s what made him very special.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.