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European tour a learning experience for music major

October 20, 2015

Curtis Stevens Curtis Stevens

CHADRON – Lessons learned from classes on music theory and conducting at Chadron State College were put to use by Chadron State College student Curtis Stevens last summer, when he spent a month in Europe as part of a prestigious art camp’s international tour band.

The trip with the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp’s 59-member Southern Winds symphonic band gave Stevens a taste of the joy of helping others develop their talents, as well.

“I was working with kids, helping them pick their music and perform it, and I actually got to conduct,” said Stevens, a senior music and music education major who specializes in trumpet. “From a music education standpoint, I can’t imagine something that would benefit me more.”

The tour was Stevens’ second experience with Blue Lakes Fine Art Camp, a summer school for gifted students located in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest. The camp holds programs in music, art, dance and drama for more than 5,400 elementary, junior high and high school students each year. With encouragement from CSC assistant music professor Dr. Sidney Shuler and his wife Pamela, an adjunct music instructor at the college, Stevens applied for a position as counselor at the camp and spent the summer of 2014 working with students and performing with staff and student groups.

To get the position as counselor with the camp’s 2015 international tour Stevens had to reapply, interview and submit audition tapes. Preparing for the job involved two spring weekend trips to Michigan and a full week of rehearsals before the tour’s June 19 departure. Tour participants, selected from among the best students at the camp, had to learn “a lot of music,” said Stevens, who played first trumpet in the band.

The four-week tour included stops, in France, Germany and the Netherlands, with major performances in seven cities and additional concerts in some places. In one French town, the band marched in a parade and at a town in Germany they performed in front of a local business on market day, Stevens said.

The concerts included a variety of traditional symphonic band music and popular tunes. Each performance closed with John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” Stevens said. There were also joint performances with local student groups and even an improvisational concert with a community party band, in one German town.

At each stop the students and counselors stayed with local host families, and had some time for sightseeing between rehearsals.  

“I got to see lots of old churches, several castles and a lot of historic downtowns,” Stevens said.

Not all of the hosts were fluent in English, but Stevens said he managed to pick up enough French to communicate, though conversations were slow and topics limited.

“We made it work,” he said. 

He also was exposed to European foods, and particularly liked the fresh breads that were served everywhere.

Stevens said he enjoyed all of the tour, but working with student musicians in small groups was the best experience.

“I saw enough improvement to make our few minutes together worth it,” he said.

The opportunity to conduct one song, both in rehearsal and in front of an audience in France, was also a highlight, and a chance to build on skills learned in classes at CSC.

“I had finished all my conducting courses, so I wasn’t worried about my pattern, but just about how to get them to express what is not written on the page. My theory background also helped,” Stevens said. “I felt like Chadron had prepared me well.”

Stevens, who is from Ogallala, Nebraska, hopes to get a job as an instrumental music teacher in middle or high school when he graduates, but said he is aware that he could find himself teaching band and choir at every level.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if my first job is K-12 everything,” he said. “I love working with kids. I just enjoy how far you can make kids go and make them realize they can do more than they think they can.”

He’s also hoping the job is somewhere in western Nebraska.

“I feel like in this area I’ve been given so much, I’d like to give back,” he said.

But the trip to Europe was enough fun that a repeat Blue Lakes tour might be in the works too.

“It was a blast. I’ve applied again for next year,” Stevens said.

—George Ledbetter

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