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Senior lets middle-schoolers copy his notes

Ryan Graff

Every other day Connor O’Meara goes back to middle school. O’Meara, a Glenwood Springs High School senior, shows up about noon carrying a leather case, shoulder bag and an orange juice container. He is tall and lanky, with red hair and a scraggly goatee. He’d stand out in most crowds, but his presence is especially obvious when he walks into a middle school classroom. O’Meara hurries to the band room of Glenwood Springs Middle School and into the office to talk with band teacher Tim Watt. This year O’Meara is teaching honors jazz band, saxophone and clarinet, to sixth- and eighth-graders for Watt.”We’re going to make him famous,” Watt says, “or infamous.”Watt is joking, of course, but not entirely. As O’Meara unpacks his shoulder bag, throwing music books on a cluttered desk, and thumbing through CDs, Watt admits, “He actually plays jazz better than I do.”And that is part of why O’Meara comes to Glenwood Middle School two or three times each week – he is an extraordinary musician. “He’s a musical freak of nature,” Watt says. For the past two years, O’Meara has been the first chair alto sax in the all-state jazz band. For the past three years, he’s been in the all-state concert band for clarinet. And, for the past year, O’Meara has been sharing what he knows with middle school students.O’Meara almost seems an unlikely teacher. He is a bit reserved, giving short, to-the-point answers, rarely expounding on anything. Asked to what he attributes his musical talent, he says only: “Why are some people mathematically inclined? I don’t think I can explain it.”What about his preference for clarinet or sax? Or jazz compared to orchestra? He likes them equally … exactly. What about the 12 1/2 minutes he spent on stage alone with his clarinet for a Symphony in the Valley concert last fall? “It was incredible, I’m still speechless about it,” he says, but nothing more. But in front of a class, O’Meara has a lot to say. Minutes after a not-very-revealing interview, O’Meara is in front of the Glenwood Middle School honors jazz band, pushing the kids to get better. “Support your sound,” he tells a trumpet player. “Point your sound at your records,” he says, as he points to the wall above the chalkboard, which features a row of vinyl records.”Blow them off the wall,” he says. The student didn’t blow the records off the wall, but did play well enough to satisfy O’Meara. Later, with a student shyly trying to reach a high C on his trumpet, O’Meara says, “Try it, man. Go for it … don’t pass out.”But the joking and prodding is to make the students better. The high notes, O’Meara tells the students, might be “a good way to start out a solo. Then everybody knows it’s your turn.”After the students run through their chromatic scales and each does a solo to a jazz CD playing on the stereo, one student complains: “Why do we have to do chromatics?””Because,” O’Meara answers, “I’m trying to push you, to make you better. Is that OK?”O’Meara seems a natural in front of the class, but he doesn’t have plans at the moment for a teaching career, though “It is very rewarding to show somebody a new trick, and a light bulb goes on.”He plans to study classical and jazz performance at the University of Northern Colorado, where he’s eager to begin in the fall.For at least the next few months, though, O’Meara will hang around the valley playing with GSHS band, a few jazz bands and with Symphony in the Valley. And he’ll keep on teaching. “He’s the next best thing to having a professionally trained assistant director,” Watt says. Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 520rgraff@postindependent.com


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