One dreary fall day last year our oldest bounded into the house with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. Because such exuberance is rare, she had my attention. "So," she exclaimed, "this super cool old dude came to school today, and well, I want to learn to play the oboe." "What?" was all I could muster in response. Playing the oboe wasn't exactly what I expected would float this pre-teen's boat. Admittedly musically challenged, I immediately visualized her attempting to board a school bus sporting a music case bigger than she was. Fortunately, I had confused the oboe with a bassoon, and was significantly relieved to learn her sights were set on the smaller, sleeker instrument, with a much more manageable case. With that concern alleviated, we encouraged her to give it a go.
Before continuing, it's important to note the moniker "old dude" was never intended with any disrespect. When you're 12, anyone beyond the distant age of 40 fits that bill.
Shortly after our conversation, the oboe made its first trip home. We learned all about its unique double reed, and listened to practice that reminded us, rather wistfully, of the duck calls fashioned by the girls' granddad back in Nebraska. The months passed and the dude kept showing up at SMS, volunteering his time and sharing his musical expertise. Soon the duckling noises were transformed into actual notes, far easier on the ear. Still, it wasn't until late spring that we finally met the man so giving of his time and talent to the middle school. Rather rapidly, bits and pieces of the oboe puzzle started falling into place.
Seems the dude willing to travel from Breck to the middle school in the dead of winter was no stranger to teaching. Inducted into the Colorado Music Teacher's Hall of Fame in 2000, Dr. Kenneth Evans is an internationally renowned professor of oboe. Although he retired from his position as a University of Northern Colorado music professor some years ago, he's far from finished teaching. Many of you likely are familiar with a pet project that started as a tribute to Breck's centennial celebration in 1980, and blossomed into the Breckenridge Music Institute, a "cherished dream" of Dr. Evans and his wife, Dona. The BMI evolved through the years, and the music plays on through the diligent efforts of the Breckenridge Music Festival that annually brings extraordinary musicians to these mountains.
This week marks a special anniversary, and a fine time to give a "shout-out" to Dr. Evans, who is celebrating a birthday. Pondering what keeps this teacher from resting on his laurels, it seemed appropriate to seek out one of his former students, SMS music teacher Mark Clark. When asked about his former instructor, I immediately recognized the sparkle in Clark's eyes - quite reminiscent of that day last fall - as he recalled his time studying under Dr. Evans nearly 40 years ago. It seems some things are wonderful constant, like Dr. Evans' and his wife Dona's uncanny ability to welcome students from all backgrounds into their lives. "Dr. Evans is at his core an educator," Clark explained. "He really cares about his students," Clark's wife chimed in.
In the meantime, Evans also manages to devote time to other passions, like fly fishing, world travelling, reed making, with family topping the list. He's always striving, Clark explained - to encourage and contribute. Resting, apparently, can wait. Sadly, this column's space is too limited to elaborate on the gifts Dr. Evans and his wife have shared with the communities they call home, but if music is involved, they've likely had some hand in it.
When I googled the "dude" for some background, I ran across a quote from Dr. Miles M. Ishigaki, professor of music, California State University, Fresno, who eloquently explained "Dr. Evans' keen artistic insights and high academic standards combined with his depth of pedagogy and wealth of performance experiences are matched by few people in the teaching profession." True enough. When I asked our daughter what made Dr. Evans so special, her response was far simpler, "Dr. Evans is my friend." The near 70-year age difference a drop in the bucket when it comes to making the connection that fuels the learning fires. Happy birthday Dr. Evans, may you continue to inspire for many years to come.
Cindy Bargell lives with her husband and two children outside of Silverthorne, and is working hard to recognize and appreciate the amazing musical talent that graces Summit County.