Artist service program educates Roaring Fork students

Carla Jean Whitley
Music teacher Emily Schoendorf teaches a new song to a first grade class at Basalt Elementary School.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Meet the fellows

Emily Schoendorf

The 26-year-old bassoonist from University Park, Maryland, is working with Basalt Elementary teacher Maureen Hinkle in general music education. Schoendorf earned a bachelor’s in bassoon performance from Indiana University and a master’s in the same from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.

Daniel Jacobs

Beginning Strings fellow Daniel Jacobs works in after-school and in-school programs. The 27-year-old violist from Onalaska, Wisconsin, holds a bachelor’s in music performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s in the same from Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. While there, he also taught at the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Ben McMurray

A bachelor’s in music from Ohio State University, along with his role as a squad leader for the university’s marching band, prepared Ben McMurray for his work alongside Basalt Middle and High School choir teacher Brittany von Stein. The 24-year-old from Grove City, Ohio, spent the last few years working with school choir programs around Columbus, Ohio.

Lindsay Bobyak

Linday Bobyak’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees in double bass performance from Indiana University were complemented by her associates of science in string instrument technology. The 25-year-old double bassist from Plymouth, Minnesota, is working alongside Nick Lenio with Basalt Middle and High school bands.

Will Brobston

Will Brobston, a 26-year-old guitarist from Huntsville, Alabama, teachers classical guitar technique, music reading, theory, performance skills and ensemble as AMFS’ lead guitar fellow. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music technology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a master’s of music in guitar performance and composition from the University of Denver.


Aspen Music Festival and School is renowned for its summer classical music festival, but its mission is a year-round effort. Among its programs:

After-school music programs, including beginning strings, lead guitar and Maroon Bel Canto Children’s Chorus

Summer private lessons, including Roaring Fork Valley Music Lesson Program and P.A.L.S. (Passes and Lessons Scholarship Program)

In-school programs

Honor ensembles

Summer camp opportunities

Festival for Kids, a free music program for kids and families

Learn more at

ArtistYear aligns to National Core Arts Standards with its arts curriculum. It aims to provide arts education to vulnerable student populations, such as those that are economically disadvantaged or learning English as a second language. The ArtistYear mission states, “ArtistYear believes the arts—as vehicles for critical-thinking, empathy, self-discipline, social bonds, and civic engagement—are imperative for a thriving democracy. Our vision is to develop engaged citizen-artists committed to strengthening the fabric of our nation. How? By providing every underserved student in America with access to arts education via national service.”

Learn more at

This time last year, Emily Schoendorf complemented her music studies with an outreach program in Los Angeles. The 26-year-old bassoonist substituted in concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as she earned a master’s degree in bassoon performance from the University of Southern California.

This year, her primary teachers are much younger.

Schoendorf now spends her days at Basalt Elementary School, where she works alongside teacher Maureen Hinkle in 30 music classes a week. Schoendorf is one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s inaugural ArtistYear fellows.

The first-of-its-kind service program is based in Philadelphia, but it grew out of relationships in Aspen. ArtistYear and Aspen Music Festival and School, together with the Roaring Fork School District, partnered this year to bring the Americorps-funded program to Colorado. The Roaring Fork Valley is ArtistYear’s third location, and first rural effort.

“It was a no-brainer of an opportunity,” said ArtistYear co-founder Margo Drakos.

Drakos has served as an artist in residence and faculty at AMFS, and has a long-standing relationship with the festival’s executive director, Alan Fletcher. The former professional cellist attended the Aspen Institute’s first Ideas Festival, though, as a military spouse. The event included a call to action to civilians, challenging them to match the military’s 1 million service members.

“What if we had 1 million doing national service?” Drakos recalled. “What would that do in a generation?”

That challenge inspired AI’s Franklin Project, now part of Service Year Alliance, and ultimately ArtistYear, as well. Drakos and Elizabeth Warshawer piloted the program with three Philadelphia fellows in 2014. It grew to a 501(c)3 and nine fellows in 2016. In summer 2017, Americorps announced it would offer ArtistYear $1.45 million in funding over three years. Simultaneously, ArtistYear expanded to 25 fellows in Philadelphia, Queens, New York and Colorado.

“What we’re doing is not art for art’s sake,” Drakos said. “The arts are integral to having a thriving, vibrant democracy.”

More than music

Schoendorf guided a kindergarten class through its holiday program, explaining rests and other musical notations as she went. Though the songs may seem simple to an onlooker, she is able to weave reading music and coordination into her lessons. It’s brought Schoendorf back to basics, even as she continues to pursue her long-term goal of orchestral performance.

Beginning Strings fellow Daniel Jacobs is quick to point out the end result isn’t being able to play music, necessarily. Though he and his colleagues began their musical pursuits at a young age, he sees music as a path to many other life lessons.

“They learn great listening, communication, conversation skills,” he said. “But they also learn how difficult it is. There’s failure in it as well. Learning ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ can be a lot for some. It’s overcoming those challenges that can be very rewarding for them.”

These lessons give kids room to experiment, and to fail safely.

Katie Hone Wiltgen is familiar with those experiences. A classical musician herself, she ran Basalt Middle and High schools’ music programs before joining AMFS as director of education and community programming.

In her three and a half years with the organization, she has been active in increasing AMFS’ outreach and education. When a festival donor told her about ArtistYear, Wiltgen recognized their similar missions. She and Drakos began talks of collaboration in August 2016, and ultimately AMFS was able to make a financial commitment to launch the local fellowship.

The five inaugural fellows help AMFS extend its reach throughout the community.

“Service binds humans to one another and gives us a stake in our communities and our country,” Drakos said in a press release.

The fellows extend that reach beyond the classroom with their own community performances, such as a recent concert at Basalt Public Library. Jacobs said community connections are essential, and even more so in a rural place, where fewer such opportunities exist. “It’s a small community, and it’s important to get to know people and be involved in all sorts of ways,” he said. “Music can create a community in a space.”

“We’re not thinking we’re creating the next Sarah Chang or the next Joshua Bell,” Wiltgen said, referencing the successful violinists. “That’s not our goal. The goal is, though, to expose kids to high-quality classical music, to give kids access to really high-quality teaching and musical education experiences and to foster in those kids a life-long love of music, to show those kids and parents the benefits of music and performance and how those benefits will transfer to anything they do throughout their lives.”

She’s heard from event attendees in other fields about how music has shaped them, as well. It teaches responsibility, teamwork, devotion to your fellow players and organizational skills.

Two-way education

The fellows continue to hone those skills, as well. Though the rhythms of their days differ, each interacts with numerous students and a teacher mentor. They also meet weekly with ArtistYear regional lead Tami Suby, who is Glenwood Springs High School’s band director.

Suby grew up playing flute and piano, and music helped connect her to a community despite her family’s frequent moves.

As regional lead, Suby mentors the follows, coaching them and providing teaching resources. She also maintains relationships with AMFS and the school district. The fellows will each implement a self-created project in the schools this semester, an effort to extend existing music opportunities. And she helps develop a vision for how ArtistYear could grow locally.

Drakos hopes that could include other arts. In its other communities, ArtistYear offers both visual and performing arts instruction. Stretching into western Garfield County, where students attend school four days a week, is also high on her wish list.

But those growth goals will require money. For now, ArtistYear and its local fellows focus on semester two with existing students.

“This year has really brought a sense of fun back to music because I’ve been so focused on practicing to get a job,” Schoendorf said. “Hands down, I still want that. But the kids require fun.”

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