Sounds of Music Across the State
The Department of Music brings choirs, symphonies, orchestras and ensembles to perform throughout Wyoming.
By Micaela Myers
Residents of Worland, Wyoming, population 5,456, were invited to a community concert last year, and for many, it was their first time hearing a symphony orchestra perform. The townspeople brought food and sent in donations—tokens of their appreciation for this University of Wyoming orchestra visit that included school concerts in Gillette, Buffalo and Riverton, as well as public concerts in Worland and Casper.
“I feel like the community is excited to have us there,” says Stephanie Flores Guerrero, a senior music performance major from Mexico who has traveled playing cello with both the symphony and chamber orchestras at UW. “I think it’s rewarding—you also get to see future generations, and we’re sharing with small communities and people who may have never seen an orchestra.”
Aric Hageman, the band teacher at Riverton High School, helped organize the orchestra’s visit to his city. “Most communities don’t have orchestras, so the kids will never see that unless it’s brought to us,” he says. “The orchestra played a lot of different styles of music, so the kids could hear some classical pieces with some newer pieces. It was a good cultural experience for them.”
The UW Department of Music makes outreach to the state a priority. Despite limited funding for travel, the choirs, jazz ensembles and bands also tour when possible. Jazz Studies, for example, has visited Green River, Riverton, Casper, Wheatland, Cheyenne, Sheridan and Buffalo, with upcoming plans for stops in Gillette, Cody, Powell and other cities. “We feel it’s imperative to share America’s art form with the students and community members who would otherwise not have the opportunity to hear this type of music,” says Assistant Professor Ben Markley, who directs the jazz ensembles and combos. He says that these visits also keep faculty members in touch with their public school counterparts.
The choirs and choral groups often work in visits to Wyoming communities on their way to perform at events such as the Wyoming Music Educators Conference, the Governor’s Arts Awards and the Grand Teton Music Festival. “We love to get out and share our music, and it affords us an opportunity then to spend days in public school classrooms promoting ensemble singing,” says Director of Choral Activities Nicole Lamartine. The groups find that people across the state pull together to welcome them. “We have always been embraced by the communities of our state. We have experienced amazing generosity and support from them. Many times they provide us with meals, home stays or an interview on the local radio station.”
Director of Bands Robert Belser agrees that communities are always eager to welcome the performers. When he takes the bands out to the state, they often tailor programs for school children, including portions of major works and music to which the kids can relate. “We may do a march, a medley from a show and music from a movie. We’ll do Star Trek or Star Wars or the Harry Potter suite,” he says. “For the students in the schools, they get to hear a very good ensemble, and it gets them excited.”
Last year, Director of Orchestral Activities Michael Griffith took more than 75 of his symphony orchestra students out into the state for performances and school visits, funded in part by the Ricky Blackstone Orchestra Travel Endowment. “Frequently when we tour, we also do clinics or lessons or ways of engaging the high school music students,” he says.
Griffith says that the visits accomplish multiple objectives: taking the state’s university out to communities, providing important performance and teaching experience to UW’s music students, and improving public relations and recruiting. Chances are that some of those students in the auditorium seats in Worland or Wheatland or Wamsutter will one day be on the stage at UW.