SWAN VALLEY – An appreciative audience gave a standing ovation to the Chinook Winds Quintet at the conclusion of their Nov. 11 concert at Swan Valley School. But the quintet’s mission was only half fulfilled. They spent the next two days giving performances and instructions to the children in the Seeley, Swan and Potomac schools. For the Quintet, bringing music to students in Montana’s rural schools is equally as important as performing for the adult communities.

All five members of the Chinook Winds Quintet are also members of the Great Falls Symphony Orchestra. As French horn player Madeleine Folkerts explained, the Chinook Winds, alternating with the symphony’s other core ensemble the Cascade Quartet, perform outreach programs in the local Great Falls Schools. Each year, each school in the district receives a visit from either the wind or the string instrument group. Extending the outreach to as many of the rural schools and communities as they can access throughout Montana became the next logical step.

The Quintet’s bassoon player Dorian Antipa said, “There are some schools we’ve been to where the kids have never seen the instruments that we’re holding. It seems like if we’re not [bringing music education], no one is in some of these areas.”

The group also talked briefly about the problem of hiring and retaining music teachers in some of the rural areas. Clarinetist Cameron Winrow said, “We kinda hear that a lot when we go around. Seems like the smaller the district, the more likely it is that anybody who lands there is going to be looking for the next job somewhere else.”  

The Quintet’s oboe player Paul Chinen who is from Hawaii said he grew up and always lived in a big city. He said it never occurred to him that there were children who had never seen an oboe, a French horn or a bassoon.

“I think especially those kinds of specialized instruments are ones these kids wouldn’t necessarily see if we’re not getting out there,” Chinen said. “To see a French horn and hear what it sounds like, to actually see someone at this professional level play it, is really intriguing for a lot of these young kids. That’s one of the reasons why we go out. It makes an impact on them.”

Flute player Norman Menzales agreed. “The only way to pique someone’s young interest is actually to bring [the instruments] to them. And if you’re in a community that has access to us and our abilities then I think it’s important to take advantage of that and for us to come to share our love and passion for what we do.”

What exactly the Chinook Winds Quintet teaches in the rural schools varies with every school. With large groups, they often do the program they perform in the Great Falls schools, which is usually interactive. This year’s program combines geography with music. The Quintet will play a Latin-style piece, something from a European, North American and Asian composer, give clues after each and ask the students to guess which continent the music represents. 

If a school has a band program in place, the Quintet will do whatever the band teacher wants, or they might workshop with a small chamber group. Sometimes they model rehearsal strategies. They might, for instance, play part of a new piece they are working on and ask the students what they thought of it. They will also critique it themselves and point out ways they feel it could be improved. Then they will play the selection again, putting into practice the suggested improvements. Then critique how well the changes worked.

Sometimes the musicians find they need to become instrument mechanics when they do outreach.

Betty Vanderwielen, Pathfinder

SSHS students were divided into red and blue teams and alternately given a chance to answer questions about which continent a selection of music came from. Chinook Winds members took turns briefly demonstrating their instrument before each new musical selection. Here Dorian Antipa talks about his bassoon.

Folkerts recalled the time a student came up and said his mouthpiece was stuck in his euphonium [a smaller member of the tuba family] and he couldn’t get it out. She managed to break it loose by running it under cold water. She was, however, not able to help the trumpet player with a pencil eraser stuck in the lead pipe of his instrument.

Antipa said, “We see a lot of that actually. The instrument will be all messed up, and the student has no idea that it’s even messed up.”

Mendalez added, “Then the students become discouraged because they can’t make it sound the way it’s supposed to and they think it’s their fault.”

Nonetheless, Folkert said, “I enjoy going and working with the kids. They’re always excited. Even the ones that are “too cool” warm up eventually and get excited. And that’s really rewarding to see them engage and want to participate in their own way.”

The musicians had praise for Alpine Artisans 2 Valleys Stage which brings music and other programs to the local schools.

Folkert said, “I think it’s always so neat to find in these kinds of communities little pockets of people coming together to get involved with the arts. It happens all across the state. It’s a little unexpected to see these kinds of collectives. I like that that’s ‘a thing’.”