Park City School District music program is thriving
Ryan Summerlin April 20, 2012
While the Park City School District struggles to balance its budget, the district’s music program is the strongest it has been in years.
The program boasts nine competitive music ensembles Varsity Jazz, JV Jazz, Intermediate and Advanced Percussion Ensemble, Choir, Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensemble.
"The whole music studio is divided into five different large-ensemble facets at Park City High School," explained Bret Hughes, assistant director of bands and percussion teacher. "You have the choirs, the orchestras, the bands, the jazz bands and the percussion ensembles, and the kids from these groups can also compete in a solo and ensemble category also, which includes solos, duets and quartets.
All of these ensembles can compete at five different state festivals that run from March until May. (See story titled "Rundown of Park City School District music ensembles" for the schedule)
"Out of our nine competitive ensembles, seven of them have placed at various regional festivals and are competing on the state level," Hughes said.
This is the first time that has happened since Chris Taylor has been the director of bands at Park City High School.
"When I first started teaching at Park City High School, which was 2001-02, we may have had four groups qualify for state," Taylor said. "That was one band, one choir, one orchestra and one jazz band. But now, since we’ve added the percussion ensembles and such, it’s been great to have all the groups going."
Taylor credits the improved caliber of musicians to the middle and elementary school music teachers Derek Spitzer and Dennis Harrington at Ecker Hill Middle School and Mary Morgan at Jeremy Ranch.
"For me, having Derek Spitzer teaching at Ecker Hill is incredible," Taylor said. "He has more knowledge about band directing in his pinky than most people I know. So, by the time I start teaching eighth-grade kids, they are well versed in fundamentals and play very well. That’s refreshing, because I don’t have to teach them how to play the instrument. We can just worry about making music and going to that next level.
"It’s like getting kids who have been playing for four years, even though they have been playing for two," he said.
Harrington has also started a fiddle program, Taylor said.
"So, the kids are learning some improvisation," he said. "Then there’s Mary Morgan at Jeremy Ranch who is just killing it. They are laying down a solid foundation."
Taylor also praised Ryan North and Stephen Fairbanks, PCHS’s respective choir and orchestra directors.
"Ryan has been resurrecting a choral program that was almost dead a few years ago," he said. "When I first started, there were only three choirs in high school and Ryan came into his position without very many numbers to work with, but has changed the quality of sound because he has the kids believing in themselves.
"They are very excited to be singing," he said.
Fairbanks has started to build the orchestra back up after a couple of down years, Taylor said.
"He’s worked very hard to get those kids excited about playing and his top groups are playing at a very high level now," he said.
Then there’s the addition of Bret Hughes, PCHS’s assistant director of bands who also teaches percussion, Taylor said.
"The fact that we got to hire Bret Hughes as the assistant band director to build up that percussion and music theory programs has been great," he said. "The team of music teachers we have right now is a making it fun. Those guys have been doing a wonderful job, and this is the most fun I’ve ever had teaching."
Taylor is also proud of his own students at the high school and at Treasure Mountain Junior High.
"They have just been working really hard this year. I’ve had a couple of good student leaders step up and they have been great examples for the other kids and that work ethic has trickled down," he said. "They are working at a much higher level this year."
"The varsity program is a mostly senior-laden group with some 11th-graders this year, so I’ll be losing a lot of good kids when they graduate," he said. "Normally, that would terrify me, but I look at my junior varsity group, which is mostly made up of ninth and 10th-graders, who will walk in and start at the same level."
When Taylor looks further down the line, he is confident the quality of players will remain strong.
"I mean, the eighth-grade band at Treasure Mountain is playing stuff that is way beyond where those kids should be right now," he said. "I’m looking at what’s on the horizon as far as numbers of kids coming into the program. My eighth-grade band will almost double in size and there are 90 plus kids in the seventh-grade band next year, which means we will take another jump the next year.
"With all the negative light shown on the schools with the teachers stressed out about cutbacks, it’s nice to see something like the music program thrives," Taylor said. "The future is looking good and will only get better."