MOTM May 2019 - Ms. Megan Wilkes

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Hello again, friends of the Fort Collins Wind Symphony! We’re back with our final edition of the Musician of the Month, and to celebrate our great 2018-2019 season, we are featuring our very own President of the Board, Ms. Megan Wilkes!

Megan as been with our organization for a few years and has dutifully served as president for a year. Unlike our other featured musicians, Megan is not a full time musician, but maintains performing as a critical aspect of her life. We are excited to have such a dedicated musician at the helm of this organization

We sat down with Megan to talk about her career and what she values in classical music

FCWS: In your words, please tell us who you are and the role you play in the FCWS, and then please tell us a little about your experience as a musician.

Megan: I play horn with FCWS and a few other local ensembles -- I’m not a professional musician, but a serious hobbyist. I am currently serving as president of the FCWS board. I joined the board last year as librarian to be more involved and give something back to an ensemble that gives so much to me.

FCWS: What is your career?

Megan: I have a background in statistics and worked in healthcare forecasting for over 10 years before choosing to pursue a career change into occupational therapy [OT]. I am currently 2 weeks away from finishing my OT coursework at CSU, which I am pretty excited about. I’ve met so many OTs who absolutely love their jobs and have truly enjoyed my fieldwork experiences as a budding OT. I’m looking forward to being able to work as a therapist in the near future.

FCWS: Why do you pursue music as a serious hobby?

Megan: I honestly just love making music with other people. I didn’t realize how important playing with an ensemble was to me until I quit playing when I went off to a college with no music program. After a few years of missing music, I decided to buy a horn and take up playing again. It was awful!! I knew what I should sound like and be able to do but came nowhere near that level of playing for quite a while. Thanks to a wonderful lesson teacher in Austin who specialized in “adult rehab cases” I was able to push through the awkward phase. I eventually found my way into a wonderful community group, the Austin Civic Orchestra [ACO], playing beside that same lesson teacher.  I remember working on Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries in my first rehearsal with ACO. I was absolutely elated to feel like I was finally playing well alongside other musicians. I continued with ACO for 10 years before moving to Fort Collins. One of the first things I did when we were looking at moving to Colorado was to scope out local community ensembles!

FCWS: For those in the audience who were unaware, this has been your first year as president of the FCWS. What did you learn about this organization that you didn’t know before you stepped in as the president?

Megan: I am so fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful board. FCWS is a long-standing and well-run organization, and the other board members make my job as president relatively easy. Before being in this role, I wasn’t fully aware of the amount of work that goes into many of our tasks for each concert cycle: for example, creating, editing, proofing and printing our concert programs. Although the programs look similar from concert to concert, there are changes every time. Program notes must be written and proof read; the ads, donor names, and personnel lists must be updated; our printing vendor must be sent the new proofs by a certain date, etc… I’ve enjoyed gaining an appreciation for the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to support an organization like this.

FCWS: As the president of FCWS, what sort of directions do you want to take the FCWS in the next few years?

Megan: I want to keep our audience and our musicians happy and engaged. We are honored by how much our patrons support us through excellent concert attendance and generous donations. I also love to hear from an audience member who has never been to a concert before. It’s a great sign that our audience enjoys us well enough to spread the word about FCWS. Our director, Dr. Mayne, does a wonderful job of keeping audience interest in mind while he’s putting together concert repertoire that will also challenge and excite our musicians. 

FCWS: I’m sure most musicians and fans of the symphony have heard that “classical music is dying”. Do you believe this is true? How do you engage new people to come to the FCWS?

Megan: I don’t think this is true, although people have certainly been saying it for years.  One of the many wonderful things about our Fort Collins/Loveland/Greeley community is their appreciation for the arts. I think our fantastic audience attendance at each concert is one indicator that classical music is indeed thriving at the local level. And I’ve recently started enjoying listening to Northern Colorado’s new classical music station at 88.3 FM. On a larger level, you still hear fantastic orchestral music on TV and in huge blockbuster films like those horn riffs in the Avengers movies! I feel like this continued inclusion of classical music in pop culture is a strong sign that it’s here to stay.   

FCWS: What value does a community music organization, like the FCWS, provide to its community?

Megan: In addition to providing high-quality live concerts to the community, we give local musicians an outlet for their creativity. As a member of FCWS, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to participate is such high-quality ensemble in the same town I call home. Making music with other people is a unique experience and having an outlet for that for professional and non-professional musicians alike is huge. It’s wonderful to interface with local high school students through open rehearsals – it provides a chance to show students there are options to continue playing music as an adult even if they have non-musical career interests. We showcase the talents of other local artists by choosing to feature guest artists and collaborate with composers who call the Front Range home. Lastly, we strive to remain accessible to all by not charging admission to our concerts so that cost is not a deterrent.  

FCWS: When you are not performing with the FCWS, what other avenues of music creativity do you pursue?

Megan: I enjoy playing with the Health and Wellness Community Orchestra and the Rocky Mountain Horn Ensemble. Recently I’ve also been fortunate to play with the Loveland Choral Society’s Christmas show. I played piano when I was younger and would love to get back to that someday if I can find the time.

FCWS: What is an important skill that modern musicians should have?

Megan: Social media can be a great networking tool for musicians starting out in a new location. I’ve made several connections online after playing with another musician once or twice that then turn into a playing opportunity years later. Musicians can be a pretty mobile group, so having a way to maintain those connections is helpful. 

FCWS: What does the future of classical music look like?

Megan: I think classical music will continue to make an impact on people’s lives. As long as we continue to support music programs in schools and give students opportunities to engage in choir, orchestra and band, future generations will carry forward a love of classical music. I know I’m not alone when I say I’m still grateful to the fantastic music educators I had in school. 

MOTM March 2019 - Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

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Hello again, friends of the Fort Collins Wind Symphony! We’re back with another edition of the Musician of the Month, and are pleased to feature one of our flutists, Dr. K. Dawn Grapes.

Dawn is an active performer in the Northern Colorado region and has served as the FCWS principal flutist for several years. When she is not performing, she is engaged in scholarly pursuits at Colorado State University where she teaches music classes and studies music history. Her history expertise is well known in the Northern Colorado region - she writes program notes for the Colorado Bach Ensemble, and hosts the “Composer Talks” lecture series for the Fort Collins Symphony. A full detail of her academic work can be found at her website.

We sat down with Dawn and picked her brain about music and the importance of music history.

FCWS: In your words, please tell us who you are and the role you play in the Fort Collins Wind Symphony, and then please tell us a little about your music career.

Dawn: Well, I am a musician, a teacher, a scholar, a wife, a mother, and hopefully a decent human being, not necessarily in that order. In the Fort Collins Wind Symphony, I serve as principal flutist, which is a pleasure and an honor. My music career has sort of taken two tracks. For about twenty years, I was primarily a freelance flutist, doing a variety of things. I played with professional orchestras in a number of states, had my own teaching studio, taught at several universities and community colleges, and was a freelance performer and contractor in Nashville. I have always had a special interest in music history, however, and about ten years ago, I decided to get my Ph.D. and travel down the academic path, and here I am today, on the faculty of the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance at CSU, as an Assistant Professor of Music History, and delighted to be surrounded by music and history every day.

FCWS: So far, we’ve featured a combination of educators, composers, and professional performers. In addition to your education and performing, you are a professional musicologist. Can you tell our audience what musicology is? 

Dawn: Musicology is just what it sounds like: the study of music. It often gets categorized as the academic side of music studies. There are a number of different sub-fields within musicology, such as ethnomusicology [the study of music within cultures], performance practice, theory, phenomenology, popular music studies, and historical musicology, which is what I do.

FCWS: As a musicologist, what is your primary area of expertise?

Dawn: My research right now mainly revolves around music and musicians in early modern England—the Tudor and Stuart eras. I try to find out and elucidate how music of the time reflected the values, beliefs, customs, and social structures of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. In many cases, though the place, time, and technology may be different, there are a lot of parallels to our present day, some four hundred years later. My latest project is on John Dowland, the “rock-star lutenist” of the early seventeenth century.

FCWS: Why is it important to understand and study the history of music, including and beyond western art music?

Dawn: Music, in some form, is practiced in almost every time and culture. In many ways, it serves as a way to tell the story of any particular group of people. Studying a people’s music can help add a dimension to understanding them. There is a who, what, when, where, how, and perhaps most importantly, why, behind every piece of music. Sometimes the answer to that “why” is complex and sometimes very simple, but it provides a lens through which to understand people who are like you and people who are different from you. What could be more important? 

FCWS: For our younger listeners, can you describe what a career in musicology looks like? What sort of professional options exist for musicologists? 

Dawn: Musicology is such a broad field. There are many different roles musicologists play, and many paths that one can take in the discipline. The most obvious is university professor, but there are other options: archivist, museum curator, librarian, writer, copyright specialist, advisor to film or television studios, editor for book or music publishing, and of course, performer, for some.

FCWS: When you’re not working on your research and teaching at CSU, you perform regularly with several small ensembles in the Northern Colorado region. Can you tell us about the other ensembles you perform in?

Dawn: I am a founding member of a flute-clarinet-piano trio called Sound de Trois, which specializes in contemporary chamber music, and I am part of a group called Hyperprism, which presents chamber recitals and takes on recording projects. In some ways playing with groups that play contemporary music balances out the early music researcher in me. I also do a lot of church gigs around town, and have a special affinity for collaborating with organists. The flute sounds really nice with pipe organ pipes.

FCWS: Is classical music “dying” in the 21st century, or is it still relevant for our culture?

Dawn: People have been bemoaning the “death” of classical music for decades. But in a lot of places, the art music world is still going strong. I do not see the end in sight. As an early music historian, of course I think older music is relevant. However, I also believe that there is room for new music, and innovation is a beautiful thing. My favorite pieces of music that fall under the “classical” label are often those newer pieces that draw from the past, but are infused with modern sensibilities. Wind music composers often understand that, which is one of the reasons I really enjoy playing with the Fort Collins Wind Symphony. In historical research, we build on what those before us have done. It is inevitable. Why not music?

FCWS: What does the future of classical music look like?

Dawn: I know better than to try to predict the future. But in this newest era of globalization, I hope that music of all kinds, art music included, brings us all a lot closer together.

MOTM February 2019 - Ms. Gabriela Bliss

Welcome back, and happy 2019! We are excited to kick off the second half of our 2018-2019 season with our February Musician of the Month - Gabriela Bliss.

Gabriela is an active freelancing musician and private instructor in the Fort Collins area. She performs frequently in the Northern Colorado region, and is a regular at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. If you’ve heard flute at an event, there’s a high likelihood that you’ve heard her perform! She maintains an active studio and is establishing herself as a strong pedagogical presence. You can read more about her on her website (

We caught up with her recently to hear her thoughts about professional musicianship and classical music in the 21st century.

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FCWS: Tell us a little bit about who you are and the role that you play in the Fort Collins Wind Symphony, and then tell us a little bit about your musical career.

Gabriela: I am Gabriela Bliss, and this is my first year as the piccolo player for the Fort Collins Wind Symphony, although I have subbed for the group in the past. I got my Master’s in flute performance from CSU, and my Bachelor’s from Northern Arizona in music performance, and this is my second year being a full time freelance musician.

FCWS: Up to this point, we’ve featured mainly music educators – plus James David, our composer in residence, if you will – but you are our first gigging musician to be featured. Can you tell us a little bit about what it means to be a gigging musician?

Gabriela: Well it’s been amazing so far, but to be a gigging musician it’s about taking gigs wherever you can. Currently I’m at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and freelancing and doing what I can to live this life! I’ve learned so much from working with colleagues around the Northern Colorado area. And it was scary at first when I quit my day job, but it was a risk worth taking. 

FCWS: And I should mention that you are also a music educator, you’re not just a gigging musician. You teach private lessons.

Gabriela: That’s right, I have a full private studio, and I teach sectionals at various high schools in the area. 

FCWS: Can you provide some honest insight for our readers: what is the job market like for professional musicians, and what does it take to be a modern professional musician?

Gabriela: Well in Northern Colorado, I’m going to be honest, it’s difficult. When I first ventured out into making this my full time career, it took me a good six months to secure a consistent gig. And up until then I was relying solely on my private lessons and the work I was doing at the schools. I believe a lot of time we get into this tunnel vision where our only careers as musicians are teachers and performers, but really there’s so much out there that is accessible to us. There’s composition, like Dr. David, and arts administration, and instrument repair. There’re so many things out there – like, we need more instrument repair people around. I think that’s just one of things we have to remember, to keep it open, and not just be in tunnel vision of one track. 

FCWS: For our younger followers, can you tell us the skills you’ve developed or the skills you see in others that are necessary to be a successful modern professional musician.

Gabriela: Absolutely. One thing that I think is super important to stress is always be professional and punctual. I’ve had a couple times where I’ve lost gigs because I didn’t respond quick enough to the email. Be prompt with your responses. And then, being professional – what does that mean? Show up to your rehearsals well practiced, and early so you have time to prepare. A colleague told me recently to treat every performance like an audition, because you never know who’s listening.

FCWS: Now for something a little more personal, why did you choose a career in music?

Gabriela: Honestly, I chose it because I was very inspired working with professionals in high school. I just really enjoy playing in groups, that’s where I really thrive, and I love feeling that we’re all working together to accomplish this goal and entertain people.

FCWS: Do you see classical music as an important music genre for the 21st century, and for the most recent generation of individuals, Generation Alpha?

Gabriela: Definitely! I think especially with Generation Alpha, a lot of people are always on their phones, they have the technology right at their hands, but music is evolving to involve more electronics. It’s also very personal, and you have to communicate with people face to face to accomplish this goal, so I think it’s very important.

FCWS: So thinking about the value of classical music – its importance in the 21st century – what sort of value does an organization like the Fort Collins Wind Symphony have for its community?

Gabriela: Well I believe the Fort Collins Wind Symphony is very accessible to the community. Not only do they offer free concerts to the community but we’re performing music from all genres including from composers that are still living today. I think that’s super important. Just to have a group that is full of educators and musicians and composers, it’s a great pool for students to go to their teacher and say “I need lessons” or “Who can I talk to for composition?” or whatever it may be. There are people within our group that probably can do one of everything.

FCWS: Now, to wrap up our interview – thinking into the future, what does the future of classical music look like?

Gabriela: I think it’s looking very positive, to be honest. I have already a couple students who are juniors and seniors that are wanting to major or minor in music. Starting them when they’re in band is a great tool and they love it so much and they want to do something with it. I think that’s super important, to continue working on that skill. 

FCWS: The future is bright.

Gabriela: Yes, it is!

MOTM December 2018 - Ms. Charlotte Harsha

Welcome to a special Sunday edition of our blog, Musician on the Month!

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For the month of December, we are proud to feature one of our horn players, Ms. Charlotte Harsha! Charlotte has devoted her life to music, and when she isn’t performing with the FCWS or a number of her other groups such as the Colorado Brass Quintet or the Friends of Loveland Chamber Music, she teaches middle school band at Blevins Middle School, in Fort Collins. More information about her background and teaching can be found at the Blevins website (

We are grateful to have Charlotte in the FCWS and excited about her future as a music educator in Northern Colorado. We interviewed her to hear her thoughts about music and music education in 2018.

FCWS: To get us all started, why don’t you tell us who you are, what you do for the Wind Symphony, and then tell us a little bit about your musical career?

Charlotte: So my name is Charlotte Harsha, this is my sixth year as a horn player in the FCWS, and as for my music career, I have my music education degree from UNC over in Greeley, and a Master’s in music performance from Boston University. I have been able to perform with lots of ensembles, both large ensembles like the Wind Symphony, and also chamber ensembles like Friends of Loveland Chamber Music, the Rocky Mountain Horn Ensemble, Colorado Brass Quintet, things like that.

FCWS: The next question, more to do with your music education background, can you tell us: what does it mean, and what is it like, to be a music educator in 2018?

Charlotte: Tough question! I believe music education plays a really vital role in a student’s overall education, and participating in music gives students multiple opportunities to exercise their brain in different ways, express creativity, learn how to collaborate with peers and work toward a common goal, exercise critical thinking skills, and they also learn self-motivation, self-management, responsibility and perseverance, and I think music educators are really lucky and we have a really unique position to provide all that for students. We use music as the medium but students are learning all these life skills in one environment and being set-up for success for their future.

FCWS: That’s great! And I think we should mention that you teach at Blevins Middle School. When did you start that gig?

Charlotte: This is my sixth year there.

FCWS: So, over these six years you spent at Blevins, as a music educator, what have been some misconceptions that people have had? And by people I mean non-musicians and musicians alike.

Charlotte: That’s a good question. And it’s a hot topic right now, with student/teacher walk-outs, and all this stuff that’s going on in our education system. There’s a lot of misconceptions I think, and I think some of it people come by honestly. They just don’t know what they don’t know. I’ve heard things like “Teachers get paid to take the summer off”, which is not true – I can get on that soapbox a different time. Or, one thing that was said to me this year “In music class, all they [students] do is just play and have fun, so really, what’s the point?”. But I’m going to spin your question a little bit and try to address those from a more positive standpoint. The first thing I like to touch on is that teachers are professionals. We’ve gone through training, many teachers have gone for graduate level degrees, and we’re experts in our field. We know what we’re doing and we’re trying to do our best for kids. And then another one is that we don’t go into it for the money. Like I said, we actually don’t get paid for summers off. I think teachers enter the profession because it’s a calling. We don’t show up and work nine to five and then just go home. We stay at school late, we take work home with us – which is not always good, but it happens – we provide opportunities for kids that happen outside of the work day or even on weekends, because it gives them chances to do something that they couldn’t otherwise do. We don’t do that for accolades for ourselves, by any means. There are easier ways to earn accolades. But we do it for kids and we do it to give them a chance to learn and thrive in different ways. When I think specifically about music education, one positive that I see in some of my students is music provides for them a “safe-place”. We talk about it my band like a second family. They have their peers in band or orchestra or choir or art or whatever it is, and they find their niche. They find their place where they belong and succeed. And we do have fun in band, and we don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, to be perfectly honest. Penalizing the arts because students have fun for participating in them doesn’t make sense to me. Of course it’s fun! I think if it’s not fun there might be something wrong. For a lot of kids, the arts are their hook: that’s why the come to school, that’s why they’re there, and that’s what keeps them engaged. 

FCWS: That was great. I think that touches on concerns that people might have about the arts, in public education particularly. I’m going to jump around a little bit and I’m going to ask you: why is it important to teach music to kids in the first place and particularly why is it important to teach this classical or jazz style?

Charlotte: I love this question. Music is super important for kids. I think classical music, or jazz music, provides that “level up” in discipline, or intensity if you can use that in a good way. Through classical music, I’ve seen kids learn skills that will benefit them in life, they’re learning skills that employers are looking for when going through the hiring process. Kids have the opportunity to work hard and thrive on the success that hard work brings them. There are statistics all over the place, I read one just the other day, that kids who have experience with music performance score higher on the ACTs. The article I read said 63 points higher on their verbal scores and 44 point higher on their math scores. There are other studies that I read showed that when they’re exposed to classical music training, they’re developing language and reasoning skills, they’re learning craftsmanship – not just putting forth mediocre work but actually taking pride in creating good work – increasing coordination, musical training helps students learn pattern recognition, tune fine auditory skills, and build imagination and curiosity. Which is something I think we hear a lot of the top employers talk about as things they want in their employees. I think music is really important. It provides kids with all these opportunities that, should they choose to stay in music, will benefit them in their musical career, but even if they don’t stay in music as a performer, they’ve learned these life skills that will make them successful no matter what they do in their future. I think it’s really important.

FCWS: I agree, I think it’s really important, and you touched on some really great points. Now, I’m to assume that you like your job. What do you enjoy the most about teaching music in a middle school?

Charlotte: Specifically in middle school, I *love* beginners and teaching musical fundamentals that will set them up to be successful in the future. I absolutely love the “ah-ha” moment and I think in middle school you get a lot of that. You go from day one “I don’t even know which end of this to blow into” and within a month they’re playing hot-cross buns and you can recognize the tune! And that’s just an example of sixth-graders, but any skill they’re learning it’s all new and it’s hard work. It’s not easy, but when they have that “ah-ha” moment and they realize, even beyond that, “Hey, my hard work actually pays off”: I love that. I love seeing that happen. 

FCWS: Thinking over the six years as an educator, a little bit about your musical career as a performer, teacher, what has surprised you most about a music education career? What did you face that you didn’t anticipate?

Charlotte: One of the things I guess I wasn’t anticipating was figuring out a work-life balance, and I will tell you I’m still not very good at it. I talked earlier that teachers take their work home with them, they think about their kids and students all the time, and I’m really bad about that. Which isn’t terrible, because it helps me do better at my job, I’m just figuring out that work-life balance and knowing when to take a break. I think it all comes from a desire of wanting to improve and do well. I’ve been in music for almost my entire life, I love it, and one of the things that surprised me, I know how inspiring music can be, I know how amazing it can be to have great teachers – that’s why I am where I am today – but one thing I love about it, it doesn’t just stop being inspiring. Every day there’s something new, the kids are new, the challenges are new, and it gives a chance to grow and get better, and that’s one of the things I really like about it. 

FCWS: Now, knowing what you know, if there is a student that comes to you and says “I want to pursue this”, what advice do you have to tell them?

Charlotte: My advice, firstly, would be to master your instrument. Work on your instrument, perform, learn music, because that’s going to your content in your curriculum. I think to be a good music educator you need to be a good musician. But even further, if I was talking to a college student in a degree program, I would say: get out and observe teachers, master teachers, and see what they do, see how they teach. Get out and work with kids: kids think in strange ways sometimes, so figure out how their brains work. It’s hard sometimes because we’re all super busy but I think that the best way to learn is to get out, observe, work with kids, see what happens. 

FCWS: Now we’re approaching the end here, and we’re going to think a little more abstract. As an educator, you work with students on a daily basis, what does the future of music look like?

Charlotte: I think it’s really, really strong. Especially in a district like PSD, we have all these good teachers and all these good music programs, I think the future of music is great. I think there’s always going to be an aspect of advocacy and trying to teach anybody “These are the benefits, we need to support this, we need to keep the arts in the school”. That’s a learning process, we need to educate, but I think it’s strong. I think we have great students – I think it’s a bright future.