New director, same direction |

New director, same direction

The Earthbeat choir has seen plenty of change since Karen D’Attilo founded it 30 years ago, but the spirit remains the same.

No longer under the umbrella of the Windstar Foundation, the kids’ choir doesn’t draw as heavily on the work of John Denver — although you can probably expect at least one of his songs at its big performance 10 a.m. Sunday at Mountain Fair. A second camp opened up in Glenwood in 2000, around the same time Earthbeat became its own nonprofit. D’Attilo passed the baton to KC Johnson, who in turn retired at the end of last year. New to the director position is Cailey Arensman, who has been involved with the organization since she was 7 years old, first as a participant, then a junior staff member, and then paid staff with a few years off while she studied music education at the University of Northern Colorado.

“I would not be the person I am today without Earthbeat,” Arensman said.

“I think that programs like Earthbeat are so essential to igniting that love and interest in music at a young age,” she added. “Even if they don’t all join high school choir, they are learning the performance and leadership skills that will serve them for a lifetime.”

The songs themselves run the gamut from reggae to folk, sometimes with a few tweaks to keep things relevant or kid friendly. There’s usually a medley featuring a specific artist, and this year will focus on the Beatles. There are also some originals by Earthbeat students and staff.

“When I hear the kids sing my songs, it makes me really proud,” said longtime program violinist and guitar player Ellen Stapenhorst.

She’s noticed that a lot of the songs that seem to resonate have a common theme.

“They seem to connect in a really heartfelt way to songs about peace and making the world better,” she said.

The program itself also focuses more on fun and cooperation than reading music or other music specific skills.

“We try to sneak in the technical side,” Arensman said. “Your average Earthbeat camper may not be able to tell you what fortissimo means, but they’ll be able to do a crescendo, and that’s impressive.”

Mostly, 9-year-old Katie Huttenhower knows she’s enjoying herself and meeting new people.

“Singing is something that I do a lot because it makes me feel free,” she said. “It’s a way to express feelings in a way that’s more fun than just talking.”

Indeed, she’s considering becoming a mentor in the program someday.

Libby Claassen, 13, already took that step.

“I loved Earthbeat when I was little,” she added. “You get so many fun experiences, you learn so many great songs, and you have a great performance at the end.”

“Being a role model was something that I always wanted to do,” she added. “It just give kids more confidence when an older kid is helping.”

Arensman thinks that’s part of what gives the program such strength and continuity.

“Many, many kids return year after year,” she said. “A bigger challenge is reaching out to new families and getting new people involved. We really try to make it accessible.”

Johnson agreed.

“How often do teenagers get a chance to become leaders and mentors to other kids?,” he said. “I feel like I was blessed to be able to be a part of Earthbeat for 21 years and have the chance to inspire and work with so many talented young kids.”

For more information, call 366-2976 or visit

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