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Nearing 40 years in existence, college's Company group remains as popular as ever
Band has two performances scheduled during Freedom Days celebration in Farmington
FARMINGTON — Just a few months after she began teaching full time at San Juan College in 1979, assistant professor of music Linda Edwards developed the idea of creating a student vocal group to perform at various school functions.
By 1987, the group — which Edwards dubbed Company — had become such a campus mainstay, and was so popular with students, that its members began advocating for the chance to add to their performance schedule.
"One gal piped up and said, 'You mean we worked this hard all semester, and this concert is all we get to do?'" Edwards said, recalling the group's turning point. "I thought that was very unusual. Normally, by the end of a semester, people want to take a break and get out of Dodge."
But that year's Company group was eager to keep performing at community functions throughout the summer. Edwards booked several more shows, and that approach has become institutionalized over the years, making Company one of the more enduring and well-known bands on the local music scene as it approaches 40 years in existence.
That tradition continues with this year's band, which will perform at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Family Freedomfest at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St., and at 1 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. Tuesday during the Freedom Days Party in the Park in Brookside Park, 1801 Brookside Drive in Farmington.
The band has evolved over the years, adding an instrumental section in the middle 1980s and changing personnel each year. Edwards said there are at least a couple of hold-overs every year, but new players rotate in as members muster out when they graduate.
Every one of those groups, save a handful, has made Edwards proud, she said.
"So it's a good batting average," she said.
This year's group includes Rachel Idzerda, Sarah Marquez, Jovanna Di Pomazio and Sean Cater on vocals, with Gordon Peck and Kevin Medina on guitar, Hank Shirley on drums, Tony Evans on bass and Edwards on keyboards. Fred Esidro serves as the band's sound engineer.
The group will wrap up its season with a July 22 performance as the featured act at the Summer Terrace Concert Series at the Farmington Museum. Edwards will take a few weeks off, but when the fall semester begins at the college in August, she'll be right back at it, staging auditions for the members of the new Company group.
Even with some returning members each year, Edwards said each version of the group has its own personality.
"It's like a wheel that keeps turning with human beings," she said. "I choose the set of music to fit the group. It's still a new group each year, so their whole sound is different. Their strengths are different, and their weaknesses are different. I would be unwise to choose music that is above anybody's ability."
Aside from a handful of standards, Edwards comes up with a new set list each year. This year's lineup of songs includes a mix of country, pop, rock, soul and folk tunes popularized by such artists as Carrie Underwood, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, the Jackson Five, Linda Ronstadt, the Beatles, the Supremes, Crosby, Stills and Nash, John Mellencamp and Grand Funk Railroad.
The group's "golden age" came during the economic boom times of the 1990s, when Edwards had far more students auditioning for spots in the group than she had room for, and the band was regularly opening for such country stars as Billy Ray Cyrus, Martina McBride, Patty Loveless, Ronnie Milsap, Charlie Daniels and Alabama.
Edwards acknowledged those opportunities to share the stage with such popular acts essentially have disappeared as the number of music promoters operating in the area has dwindled. And as the number of students who try out for the group has decreased as San Juan County endures a long downturn in the oil and gas industry that fuels its economy.
"When it comes to the bottom line of need, a lot of students just want to get in and get out (of school)," she said. "And they often don't have the time (for extracurricular activities). A lot of them are trying to work and go to school at the same time. It's a little bit sad, because getting into any form of music — especially a naked form of music like choir, where it's just your voice and you can't hide behind an instrument — it feeds the soul, and it's good for the spirit."
But Company has endured, even thrived, over the years, and Edwards plans on keeping the group afloat for the foreseeable future. She credits local school district officials for maintaining their music education programs despite budget challenges, as that approach continues to supply her with a steady crop of talented incoming students.
Convincing a good number of those students to give Company a try each year requires some recruiting, she said, but it's not a tough sell.
"If you like to sing, then come and sing with us," she said.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.