Years as a conductor and musician have trained Kenneth Evans’ hands. Even during casual conversation, they are an animated part of him, his long slender fingers flourishing, hands dancing together and apart to illustrate an idea or emphasize a point.
Classical music is Evans’ passion. He has shaped his life around furthering its appreciation through performance and education. His longest standing effort began in Summit County in 1969, when the idea of bringing the sounds of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart to the buildings and unpaved streets of this secluded mountain community took root and wouldn’t shake loose.
Music in the mountains
When Evans moved to Blue River that year, he was thoroughly embedded in the music world. He holds a doctorate in music literature and woodwinds orchestra from the University of Iowa and taught music in the public schools in Longmont, Colo., for four years. When he arrived in Summit County, he was teaching music at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
“I finally decided not to teach summers at the university and do something up here that would be attractive,” he said.
His idea was to bring middle school and high school students to a music camp, where they could play classical music and learn from professional teachers. The plan was easier conceived than executed, and Evans spent the next handful of years talking to everyone he could think of in the community to get the program off the ground.
But during the ’70s, tourism wasn’t nearly the local industry it is now, Evans said, and drawing people in from out of county was a difficult endeavor. Still, he persisted, confident in his belief that any addition of the classical music culture would benefit the area that had drawn him in with its natural beauty.
“One of my objectives in all my journey in life is to cause as many people as I could to gain something from the classical music experience,” he said.
Finally, in 1980, Evans got his chance.
Bach, Beethoven and Breckenridge
That summer, the Father Dyer United Methodist Church was looking for a way to celebrate its centennial in style. Evans was tapped to provide musical entertainment and he took the opportunity to show the community what he’d been talking about for years.
“I said, ‘I can create a chamber music orchestra and choir for one week, but you have to put them up and feed them’ — that was the contract — ‘and I’ll see to it that it works,’” Evans recalled.
He then proceeded to call in favors and pull strings, as former students and other musicians flooded into the county to provide 10 days of music, with housing and meals provided by locals. The event was a success, and acted as the catalyst for Evans’ plan.
“When it was over with, numerous people came up to me and said, ‘We need this every summer.’ So I said, ‘Oh, that sounds like a good idea,’” said Evans with a chuckle.
The next year, July 1981, featured “Bach, Beethoven and Breckenridge” — the first incarnation of what would become the Breckenridge Music Festival.
“It worked. I don’t know how else to say it,” Evans said, smiling.
For the next 10 years, Evans and his wife, Dona, worked to keep the festival going — inviting and recruiting musicians and conductors, arranging for their food, lodging and payment, organizing classes for children, putting together concerts and all the details that go along with coordinating large groups of people for public events.
“I can’t tell you how vital and important my wife was, without question,” said Evans. Dona took care of all the paperwork and administrative duties. “I could never have done it without her.”
Evans, on the other hand, took charge of the musicians.
“I hired people from all over the United States,” he said, including from the Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles symphonies.
“He was absolutely structural to us being here at all,” Marcia Kaufman, executive director of the Breckenridge Music Festival, said of Evans. “He and his wife, Dona, essentially did everything, the two of them, with very little help for the first 10 years and made everything happen — musically, administratively, fundraising, inviting artists — it was all Kenny Evans and Dona’s assistance (that made) that happen.”
Kaufman remembers her first impression of Evans and the organization that he had created.
“It’s my experience, as somebody who’s been involved in music — I go around and I’ve assisted in music production in any number of places — and it always feels like the people who make the music happen are the personality of the music, and the Breckenridge Music Festival is such a warm community festival (that) involves people at so many levels,” she said. “When I met Kenny I said, ‘Aha! That’s where it comes from, it’s all Kenny.’ It’s his spirit of enjoyment of the music, it’s his spirit of involvement in the community, everything he’s done.”
Passing it on
Although some things have changed since the summer of 1981 — the location, the name of the event — much is still the same, said Kaufman, particularly the mission of the year-round Music in the Schools program that connects with Summit students.
“The first point I’d make about Kenny is that his whole focus, I think throughout his entire life, has been on doing everything to develop the best teachers he could,” said Mark Clark, a former student of Evans’ and currently the fine arts teacher at Summit Middle School. “Education was his focus; it’s always been his focus.”
Just asking Evans about his pupils lights up his face, and he will eagerly discuss each one’s individual talent and potential. Even thinking about the many young musicians who have benefited from the music festival invites a smile.
“It was wonderful for them to go back and say, ‘I got to do this,’” he said. “That was wonderful. That was worth all the money we ever hoped to get out of the thing. When you get youngsters somehow to be a part of the classical music experience, that’s quite good, from my point of view.”
Evans’ love of teaching comes from having teachers who inspired him at a young age. When Evans started playing the saxophone at age 11, followed by the oboe, he discovered a new world.
“Suddenly, I became important. I didn’t have to be the quarterback on the football team. I didn’t have to be 6-foot-10 in basketball. I could become really important on my oboe.”
Evans told himself that he would become a teacher just like those he admired, and has since gone on to inspire many other students, Clark among them.
“The important thing about Kenny is you never really wanted to let him down. You worked really hard for him because you didn’t want to let him down, because you knew he cared about you,” said Clark.
He added that Evans is also the reason he ended up in Summit County. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without the influence of Kenny. The only reason I’m in education is because of his influence and the only reason I have a passion for it is because of him. He’s been pretty instrumental in my life, and I know (in) the lives of many of my colleagues.”
Although he no longer organizes the music festival or conducts the Summit County Orchestra, 82-year-old Evans attends performances whenever he can, and still teaches private lessons.
He also continues to make oboe reeds, which he estimates he’s done for about 50 years, and sells them to stores throughout the country.
And, of course, he still skis whenever he gets the chance.
Looking back at the years he spent working toward the music festival, its incarnation and its continued presence, is a satisfying experience.
“I don’t know what else to say, it’s just a gift, quite frankly, a gift to me that it has done what it has and that it lives on in a greater sensitivity, greater ability.”