Summit High School music director leaves for Prague
When Summit High School’s instrumental music director moves to Prague this summer, she should quickly feel right at home.
Linda Shea’s local Czech friends have told her about a common saying in the small country between Germany and Poland.
“I am a Czech, therefore I am a musician,” they say.
Shea, of Breckenridge, has led the high school’s orchestra and band programs for the last five years and will move to the Czech Republic’s capital in July to study clarinet music through the prestigious Fulbright Program.
A MUSICAL CAREER
Shea started playing the clarinet at 9 years old. The music-education major also grew up playing piano, which was her primary instrument until her third year of college at the University of Denver when she realized a clarinet specialty could provide more teaching opportunities.
She has since played with every major symphony orchestra in Colorado as well as the Santa Fe Opera, and she has played regularly with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic.
In the meantime, she earned her master’s degree from University of Colorado at Boulder and a music performance doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado. Plus, she has taught at CU Boulder and Colorado State University, and she still teaches an online music class for a California college.
She moved to Summit County because she was tired of driving all over the Front Range for her various positions, and she was drawn to the mountains.
She loved the variety of her part-time Colorado Mountain College classes and her full-time Summit High School job, which allowed her to teach every music program besides choir. As one might expect, the orchestra’s quieter, more serious character often contrasts with the fun-loving band kids and the creative jazz students, she said. “Their personalities are really different.”
As a whole, her Summit students impressed her with their musical talent and their politeness, she said. She will always remember the first one she met, Garret Giles, who introduced himself as an incoming freshman after football practice before school had even started.
A SUMMIT STAR
Shea, in turn, has impressed her students by showing them she can play anything in the percussion section better than they can. She can play almost every instrument of the more than a dozen that she teaches, she said, and she rocks on jazz drums.
Jon Winston, a parent of two of Shea’s students, said the kids looked up to her.
“When she is directing concerts or rehearsals, she likes to have fun with the kids and joke around a little — all the while expecting professionalism from every one of them,” he said.
Winston played band at Summit High School before graduating in 1991, and the dad chaperoned two school trips to Europe that Shea organized and led.
“The furthest we ever used to go would be Denver and the Front Range,” he said.
Shea brought music from around the country and world to her students, including a flamenco guitarist, a 15-member dancing and drumming group from Ghana and a colleague who studied music in India for a year and showed her students his skills playing ragas on a saxophone.
She also organized student performances in the community, including jazz-band gigs at Dillon Dam Brewery, where the students were paid with all-you-can-eat appetizers.
With the recent death of senior Marco Reifsteck on her mind, she said the passing of two of her students — the other was musician and wrestler Tristan White — were some of her most difficult challenges.
Winston complimented the way Shea handled those losses.
“She was there for the kids in every way possible, and I know the kids appreciate what she does for them,” he said.
Another parent praised the passion for music Shea shared as a teacher.
“I know a lot of band teachers start off that way, and, usually, after dealing with high school kids for a year or so, it becomes a job, and, for her, it seems like music is very much a passion and a calling,” said Jen Stechelski, whose son just finished four years with Shea in orchestra. “She’s been a really phenomenal instructor.”
Shea found music the kids enjoyed playing, like the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack and the bluegrass standard Foggy Mountain Breakdown, and she encouraged students to explore how instruments can be used in non-traditional ways, like adding violin in hip-hop, Stechelski said.
Shea said over the years she has loved watching kids who want to pursue music after high school eager to take on extra challenges. She’s also enjoyed seeing students who have talked about leaving the music program improve and surprise her with their commitment.
“It’s really exciting to see that,” she said. “At some point, they catch fire.”
ON TO PRAGUE
After 25 years playing in professional orchestras and 23 teaching in public schools, Shea said she is ready for a change of pace.
A world music class she taught at CMC fueled her fire for living in Prague, as did her visit there with Summit High School students about four years ago.
When she posted on Facebook that she would leave Summit to pursue a Fulbright in Prague, a clarinet-professor friend wrote that she did the same thing and is now on the application review committee. Then, Shea talked to the mother of a former Czech student in Summit, and that woman knew someone willing to let Shea look after her apartment in the middle of the city.
Shea will move in early July, and she plans to make connections with professional musicians there and submit her application after that. If accepted, she would formally start her study of Central European clarinet music in January and would meet regularly with a local expert for coaching. She would join the ranks of Fulbright recipients, many of whome have later won Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.
She said the central location will make travel easy throughout the continent, and she might also give music and English lessons while living there and learn to speak Czech.
In Summit, her students have told her they will miss her, especially the older ones, Shea said. “They keep saying things like, ‘Can’t you just stay one more year?’”
School principal Drew Adkins said Shea will be replaced by Chicago area trumpet player and teacher Karen Olson, who is “excited to get going and pick up where Linda left off.”
Summit will always appreciate Shea’s statewide connections that helped her bring professional musicians to the school, Adkins said, as well as her involvement in community events, including the National Repertory Orchestra, last year’s Music at the Summit Adult Band Camp, and an annual music program fundraiser called Dancing and Delectables.
“We’re sad to see Linda leave,” he said. “We certainly wish Linda the best of luck in her adventure.”
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