Nick Dobreff
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Striking A Chord

The Colorado Symphony creates a lasting impact through music education

By Nick Dobreff

The cultural impact of the Colorado Symphony extends far beyond the walls of Boettcher Concert Hall. With an annual economic impact of $30 million on the local economy, the Colorado Symphony plays a vital role in elevating Denver’s national reputation while improving the quality of life for current and future generations.

However, the greatest impact is felt in classrooms and practice studios across Colorado, where 74% of full-time Colorado Symphony musicians currently serve as music educators or teach private lessons. An additional 19% of Colorado Symphony musicians have previously served as music educators or taught private lessons.


“As musicians, we almost have an obligation to teach,” said John Sipher, Principal Trombone and Instructor of Trombone at the University of Northern Colorado. “Because music is an aural tradition, passed down from master to student, teaching is part of the process that also allows us to become masters as well. It’s important that we are able to pass on the knowledge that we’ve gained from our own teachers to the next generation of students and musicians so that the art form can truly live on.”


Colorado Symphony musicians are current faculty members at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, Metropolitan State University, Denver School of the Arts, University of Northern Colorado, University of Denver, Colorado Christian University, Legacy High School, and Compass Montessori. Colorado Symphony musicians are also current faculty members for the Colorado College Summer Music Festival and the Music at the Summit Adult Band Institute in Breckenridge.


“Colorado Symphony musicians serve as music educators at all levels, and I am proud to be affiliated with an orchestra that places such a high value on education,” said Michael Thornton, Principal Horn and Associate Professor of Horn at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “The robust partnership between the University of Colorado Horn Studio and the Colorado Symphony Horn Section has led to many students performing with our orchestra and becoming gainfully employed in orchestras around the world.”


As instructors, the greatest satisfaction comes from students moving on to professional careers in orchestras and ensembles around the world. But in a competitive industry with limited full-time openings, a student’s formative instruction can make all the difference.


“I want my students to graduate with the confidence to perform in a broad area of music, from orchestral to freelancing to teaching, while being able to create their own career with the skills to achieve it,” said Courtney Hershey Bress, Principal Harp and Assistant Professor of Harp at Colorado State University and the Affiliate Professor of Harp at Metropolitan State University of Denver.


“As a faculty member at the University of Northern Colorado, I feel very fortunate to work one-on-one with each of my students to help them achieve their goals,” added Jason Shafer, Principal Clarinet and Instructor of Clarinet at the University of Northern Colorado. “In addition to guiding their musical development, I also feel that it is a special honor to mentor them in their personal development and in their setting of career goals. Music education provides a unique opportunity to connect with students of all ages on a very deep level and is one of the biggest forces for positive change in many students’ lives and communities.”


While achieving career goals necessitates the mastery of technical skills, it is just as important for instructors to foster creativity and imagination in their students.


“I have a constant curiosity about all things musical, and try to instill this in every student,” said William Hill, Principal Timpani and Adjunct Faculty at Denver University. “The more they explore in the musical world the more ideas they will have to draw on for their own creativity.”


Research has shown that studying music, especially at a young age, has a far-reaching impact on brain synapse creating, cognitive behavior, and social development. But with limits to Arts Education funding in schools throughout the country, it has become even more vital for musicians to impart knowledge and training to the next generation at every opportunity.


“It is important as music educators to not only teach proper technique and musicality for an instrument, but also to educate students on the importance of music in society,” added Hershey Bress. “There is a definite lack of music education in our schools today and I am sometimes the sole source of teaching music to my students. Over 20 years of teaching, my goal has been for my students to be able to perform on the harp, but also to have good knowledge of the instrument and music in general.”


Engaging the youth of Colorado has been a consistent goal of the Colorado Symphony for many years as nearly 30,000 children and adults annually attend educational outreach programs, community and youth concerts, and open rehearsals at Boettcher Concert Hall. These programs introduce orchestral music to children of all ages, from as young as one years old through 12th grade.


The Very Young Composers program places Colorado Symphony musicians into local public schools, exposing students to the world of musical composition. Students’ finished music has been performed in their schools, as well as onstage in Boettcher Concert Hall.


“In this era of tweets and texts, tablets, and turbulence, the arts stand out as something uniquely personal and important, helping children to create something beautiful that they can claim as their own,” said Margaret Hoeppner, Cello and former Cello Instructor at Colorado Women’s College.


Colorado Symphony musicians perform annually alongside the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, one of the leading youth orchestras in the country, which was originally formed by musicians from the then Denver Symphony Orchestra in 1977. In the spirit of that collaborative history, a new strategic alliance has been formed between the two organizations, which will ensure that young musicians in the DYAO have even greater access to and mentorship from the musicians of the Colorado Symphony moving forward.


In addition to the DYAO, Colorado Symphony musicians participate in many other youth-based music programs throughout Colorado including El Sistema Colorado, the Colorado Youth Symphony, and Up Close and Musical.


“Educating the next generation of performers and concert goers has always been central to my work,” said Basil Vendryes, Principal Viola and Adjunct Faculty at Denver University. “Working with talented and motivated young people invigorates my own performance and further informs my intentions when I walk on stage. The Colorado Symphony is heavily involved in music education for people of all ages, and I am grateful to be a part of providing great music and culture to our city and community.”


Along with their work on stage and in the classroom, 52% of Colorado Symphony musicians currently perform with or lead another ensemble or perform as a soloist throughout the year. That includes performances with the Colorado College Summer Music Festival, the Englewood Arts Series, and the Music at the Summit Adult Band Institute in Breckenridge. Many also perform in local churches and hospitals, sharing joyous music throughout the Front Range.


“The collective level of expertise on stage at the Colorado Symphony is staggering, and the orchestra impacts our community on many levels,” said Yumi Hwang-Williams, Concertmaster and Adjunct Faculty at Denver University. “As musicians, we have an inherent need to share our music, and this, in turn, feeds our passion to give music a symbiotic relationship to the city.”


“I find teaching an outstanding balance to orchestral playing and I can’t imagine my artistic life if I didn’t teach,” added Peter Cooper, Principal Oboe and Senior Instructor of Oboe at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “If I have a part of helping someone be a creative and imaginative artist and a more thoughtful human being with a concept of how they can add beauty and generosity to the world, I will have done my job.”


The Colorado Symphony continues to be an agent of social development in the community by enhancing music appreciation, providing unforgettable entertainment, and using music to touch the depths of the human spirit. But the most meaningful impact will come from connecting with the next generation of musicians who will become the artists, educators, and music enthusiasts of tomorrow.


This article first appeared in the 2018 fall edition of Soundings, the Magazine of the Colorado Symphony.

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