The current state of classical music is precarious enough without having to worry about the future. Here in the Four Corners, both would appear sound for the time being.
That didn’t appear to be the case earlier this year. The Four Corners Youth Symphony, which had operated with financial support from Fort Lewis College, got word that it was the latest casualty in the college’s budget cuts.
But Durango’s classical music community is both large and tight-knit. FLC faculty members have always been involved with the youth programs, and many also play in the local San Juan Symphony and seasonal Music in the Mountains. So when the college bowed out, the Symphony stepped forward.
“We were looking at something to heighten our educational experience,” said Sheri Rochford Figgs, president of the San Juan Symphony board of directors. “As we grow more classical musicians, we not only ensure our future, but we create an environment that leads to kids doing better in school and so many other opportunities.”
The renamed San Juan Symphony Youth Orchestra will play its first concert this winter at the Community Concert Hall at FLC. That gives conductor Nathan Lambert, who also teaches upper strings, conducting and orchestras at FLC, plenty of time to get three separate ensembles on the same page. Lambert teaches the advanced group each week, Bayfield’s Lech Usinowicz handles the intermediate group and Bill LaShell leads the youngest bunch, the preparatory strings. The musicians come from throughout the region.
“What’s great about our orchestras, because they’re not tied to a particular school, it’s like an all-star group of area students,” Lambert said.
Lambert said the Youth Orchestra is intended to complement, not replace, scholastic music programs. He requires his students to play in their school ensembles and programs where possible, but only local elementary schools, Escalante Middle School and Durango High School have such programs. Students at Mountain Middle School, Animas High School, and local private schools, as well as home-schooled students, don’t have the option for on-site large instrumental music ensembles at their schools. Miller Middle School does not have a string orchestra program and does not offer choir and band continuously through the year for every grade level.
It’s not like FLC hung the young musicians out to dry, either. All three ensembles are allowed to rehearse weekly, free of charge, in the college’s facilities. And Lambert said it’s an accepted industry practice nationwide that the youth orchestra be under the umbrella of the local professional orchestra anyway.
The financial outlay by the San Juan Symphony for the Youth Orchestra this year will be about $12,000, but Rochford Figgs doesn’t expect it be too much of a burden. She also believes that adding the educational element will help Executive Director Kathy Myrick with her nonstop task of raising money.
“Kathy knew, working with grantors, that this would be an easy opportunity to expand our support,” she said. “And for us, it’s a way to grow our own future.”
Lambert works with the advanced group of high school and college students as well as a few of the top middle-schoolers. But he also recognizes that when it comes to classical music, the future is not necessarily now.
“The prep orchestras are an important part of this. They’re the future,” he said. “The more advanced group gets more ink, but I’m really proud of how they’re growing and their role in the future of our growth.”