Orchestral concert series aims to make fans of young listeners
Program is funded by Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation
FARMINGTON — San Juan College music professor Teun Fetz knows that, aside from a handful of concerts presented each year by the college and by the San Juan Symphony, there simply isn't much opportunity for children in San Juan County to become exposed to and develop an appreciation for orchestral music.
But Fetz and several other local classical musicians are in the process of changing that through a new program funded by the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation.
The musicians are presenting short concerts this school year at each elementary school in the Farmington Municipal School District in an attempt to provide those students with the chance to become classical music fans. The group performed at McCormick and Mesa Verde elementary schools in September, and will be featured at Animas Elementary on Wednesday and Bluffview Elementary on Thursday. Other performances will follow throughout the fall and spring semesters.
The idea to put the program together came after Fetz organized a small orchestral music concert for students at Country Club Elementary last year, where his children go to school. Fetz discussed the idea of performing other concerts with local classical musicians Mick Hesse and Cathy Pope, and those two took that notion and ran with it. They approached the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation for funding so that the participants could be paid, and the foundation came through with $20,000 — enough money to fund 10 performances.
Hesse had no trouble relating to the idea for the program, comparing it to the "Young People's Concerts" by famed composer Leonard Bernstein that he grew up watching during his childhood.
"It introduced young people to the instruments of the orchestra and demonstrated how they're used," Hesse said.
That's exactly what organizers of this series want to do. Each concert is only 45 minutes and features five pieces of music that are not only designed to draw the interest of students, but also showcase each instrument group — strings, woodwinds, brasswinds and percussion. In addition to Fetz, who serves as the conductor, the group includes 18 musicians.
"The kids eat it up," Hesse said, describing the reaction the group has gotten through its first two performances. "It's just amazing."
The program is targeted for fourth- and fifth-graders because it is in the sixth grade that district students get to choose and begin playing an instrument.
"The idea is to showcase each of these instruments so they know what it's like and how they fit in," Hesse said.
Hesse and Pope not only organized the concert series, they also recruited local composer Don Allen to come up with the music for it. Allen crafted a three-movement suite that includes a fugue based on the Lady Gaga tune "Bad Romance," a second based on the folk tune "Marching to Pretoria" and another of that features a medley of Disney songs.
The idea was to make the make the music accessible to children while retaining its orchestral structure, Allen said. He described the music as energetic and said it even includes elements of jazz and calypso.
Allen said he was excited about the opportunity and challenge the new program afforded him as a composer.
"Anything that comes my way, I take it," he said, laughing.
He also relished the chance to take part in a program that targets young listeners.
"It's just a wonderful thing to be able to do some things for music education and young students," he said. "They see what they want, and they go for it. It's exciting to see young students who want to do something other than play the saxophone."
The program also includes other fine arts elements. While the group is playing, a dancer from Farmington's Mann Dance Academy Inc. performs, a visual artist paints a picture and a poet composes a work that will be read to the students at the conclusion of the concert. The painting and the poem both become gifts to the school.
"So it's really kind of a complete package in terms of what we're making available to kids," Hesse said.
Members of the musical group include Fetz, Pope, Hesse, Allen, Tennille Taylor, Joe Pope, Hans Freuden, Kurt Chrisman, Barbara Moore, Tabatha Platero, Chris Moon, Andrea Miller, Karon Lyon, Delbert Anderson, Connie Schulz, Steve Stamets, Dan Fear, Les Leach and Erika Van Eckhoutte. Marilyn Taylor is the painter, while Geney Stan is the poet and Tiana Winer is the dancer.
Those taking part in the program certainly wouldn't mind seeing it lead to more students participating in the middle school band program, but they'd be perfectly happy if it simply opens their minds to some of the other possibilities that exist for them. The program is intended to have a long-term presence in San Juan County, as the group will perform at elementary schools in Bloomfield, Aztec and Kirtland during the next school year.
"Essentially, we want to reach out to all kids, regardless of demographics, regardless of economic standing, and expose them to fun music," Fetz said, explaining that while children seem to have plenty of opportunities to become involved in athletics, opportunities to promote their interest in the arts are far more limited.
"There are a lot of things that are beneficial about developing an appreciation for music, both spiritually and emotionally," he said, describing how music can become a vital element in someone's life. "I know a lot of people who music kind of saved their lives. Anything we can do to change one kid's life is worth it."
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 6505-564-4610.