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Program funded by Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation grant

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FARMINGTON — Students at elementary schools in Aztec, Bloomfield and Kirtland are being exposed to orchestral music, painting, dance and poetry this fall through a program funded by the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation.

Now in its second year, the Young Audiences series seeks to introduce children to various artistic pursuits. It is aimed at fourth- and fifth-graders at school districts throughout San Juan County and is financed by a $20,000 annual grant from the foundation. The program was initiated last year, when it was presented to students in the Farmington Municipal School District.

"If we do fourth- and fifth-graders, we found it works really well," said Mick Hesse, a member of the orchestra that performs during the sessions and one of the program organizers. "They're the ones who funnel into various fine arts programs in sixth grade."

The inaugural Young Audiences series last year featured 10 performances, each of which lasted approximately 45 minutes. In addition to the music, the sessions feature a singer, a dancer and a poet, as well as a painter who completes a work of art as the children watch.

While the music is performed with traditional orchestral instrumentation — all manner of horns, strings and percussion — Hesse said it is not classical, explaining that the group's set list is designed to be accessible to youngsters, consisting of Disney tunes, folk music and even Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance."

It is during the latter that Tiana Winer, the group's dancer, really gets the kids' attention, Hesse said, performing a split halfway through the number that always brings down the house.

"The kids just flip out when she does that," he said.

Seeing children respond positively to the various artistic pursuits the program includes is gratifying to all the participants, Hesse said. The idea is that some of them might be so enthralled with what they've witnessed that may opt to enter the fine arts programs in local school districts that begin in sixth grade. Eventually, they may even choose to become a professional artist or performer.

"That's the whole point — to let people know what's available to them next year and to see this reaction to arts-related things," Hesse said. "It's rewarding in many ways. It really is."

While it's too early in the program's existence to determine if it is driving students to the fine arts programs in local districts, Hesse is encouraged by what he sees at the performances. He said most children take to the presentations with enthusiasm, noting how Teun Fetz, the conductor, encourages children to mimic his movements by pretending they have a baton in their hand and following a four-beat pattern.

The group performed two shows Tuesday at Park Avenue Elementary School in Aztec, and Hesse said he was impressed at the way the students had been prepared by their music teacher to participate on the South African folk tune "Marching to Pretoria." The group uses the song in three of its movements to illustrate different musical styles, Hesse said, and he recounted how the students spontaneously began singing along every time they heard it.

"When they can identify that in the arrangements we're doing, that's a nice step forward for music education, I think," he said.

The program consists of nearly two dozen performers or artists. All of them are paid for their efforts, thanks to the foundation.

"That's kind of cool, you know," Hesse said. "We're actually able to finance musicians here in Farmington, which is a nice thing."

More: Orchestral concert series aims to make fans of young listeners

This year's group consists of musicians Tennille Taylor, Cathy Pope, Hans Freuden, Kurt Chrisman, Tabatha Platero, Barbara Moore, Andrea Miller, Jeff Solon, Delbert Anderson, Karon Lyon, Connie Schulz, Don Allen, Dan Fear, Steve Stamets, Ericka Van Eckhoutte, Les Leach, Fetz and Hesse. The dancer is Winer, and the poets are Dennis Mathis and Gail Janezich. Marilyn Taylor and Bev Taylor are the painters, and Cathy Pope is the singer. Fetz serves as the group's conductor, while Allen is the group's composer and arranger.

The group's next performance will come Sept. 19 at Bloomfield's Naaba Ani Elementary School, followed by programs in Kirtland on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3. The program is designed to alternate each year between Farmington schools, and Aztec, Bloomfield and Kirtland schools so that an entirely new group of students in those districts will be exposed to it each time.

Hesse said the success of the Young Audiences series already has attracted the attention of fine arts supporters in Durango, Colorado, schools who would like to duplicate the program there, though he noted they are having trouble coming up with the funding for it.

He said a video of the program also is being produced for the New Mexico Music Educators Association, perhaps to serve as an inspiration for teachers interested in bringing a similar program to their school. But he said the generosity of the Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation is a factor that other communicates may not be able to match.

"It really does come down to funding, and I don't think this would be happening without their participation," he said.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

 

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