Sharing joy by teaching students the art of music

Kyle Mills
Post Independent

The sheer joy of creating music with their own hands can be seen etched across their wide-eyed, smiling faces as they hit chord after chord on the keyboard and other instruments during music class at Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs.

David Parker, music teacher at Sopris, and Roberto Arundale, an ArtistYear AmeriCorps fellow, lead third-graders through the process of learning chords and linking them together to make a song.

“We are trying to get them to play four different chords,” Parker said. “And by switching them up and working in the rhythms and grooves they will be able to play most if not all songs.

“It is fun and engaging for them, because they can all be active on an instrument.” Parker said.

Arundale, a Salvadoran-American cellist from Fairbanks, Alaska, is one of five fellows spending the 2018-19 school year in the Roaring Fork Valley.

For Parker, in his fourth year as music teacher at Sopris Elementary, having Arundale in the class has helped tremendously.

“I didn’t know Roberto was coming until a week before school,” Parker said. “They asked if I wanted him in my classroom. And I said, ‘Sweet, yeah.’”

“To have him here and helping, while I’m directing the class, makes it possible to teach so many kids, so many different instruments.”

classically trained

Arundale has been playing the cello since he was 5 1/2 years old.

Watching his sister play the violin, he took interest in music quickly.

“It didn’t take too long till I really get into it, and became really serious about it in high school,” Arundale said.

Arundale found out about ArtistYear through the Aspen Music Festival and School, where he attended for three years.

“I was still doing course work in Boulder when I found out about the program, so I couldn’t do it last year, but I knew I wanted to do it,” he said.

He is currently finishing his doctorate of musical arts at CU Boulder while doing his fellowship.

“As a minority, I benefited from a lot of programs,” Arundale said. “I’ve always wanted to give back and contribute.”

He works with students at Sopris three days a week and two days at Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork near Carbondale.

“I love it so far, very tiring. I already got my first cold,” Arundale said, adding it’s worth it knowing the students are enjoying themselves.


After kicking off the national service program last year in the Roaring Fork School District, ArtistYear is back in the Valley for another year.

Founded by Margo Drakos and Elizabeth Warshawer, ArtistYear is the first national service organization for artists to dedicate themselves to a year of service to their country.

It all began in Philadelphia, but through co-founder Margo Drakos’ connection to Aspen and the Aspen Music Festival and School the AmeriCorps funded program came to Colorado and the rural Roaring Fork Valley.

The program continues to grow with 55 ArtistYear AmeriCorps Fellows serving full-time teachers, delivering 93,000 hours of instruction to 11,000 students at least twice a week in 51 schools.

Besides the Roaring Fork Valley, ArtistYear also has service projects in Philadelphia and Queens, New York.


This school year marks the second year Glenwood Springs Elementary School music teacher Emma Leake has worked with ArtistYear. This year, fellow Henry Bayless is assisting in her classroom.

“So far it’s been really good,” she said. “It’s always interesting to have someone new come into your room. Henry has been really great. It has been awesome working with him.”

Bayless is a guitarist, conductor and educator from Phoenix who spent the last year-and-half teaching high school in Arizona.

For Bayless, who earned his master’s degree in performance from Oklahoma City University in 2017, teaching is a passion. He found out about ArtistYear through a friend at Arizona State University.

“It is a great opportunity to work with kids and a chance for me to develop my teaching experience,” Bayless said. “I thought about going back for my doctoral degree, but I want to be in the classroom as a teacher, rather than a student.”

With help from Bayless, Leake is teaching her students music through Solfege, an exercise used for sight-reading music.

“If you can hear it, you can see it,” Leake said, referring to the use of the method in which each scale is assigned a coordinating syllable.

Along with Solfege, they are teaching fourth- and fifth-graders how to play the guitar.

“It takes a long time in the beginning, but once they get it, and it starts to click, they start to connect,” Leake said.

Having Bayless, with his 15 years of guitar-playing experience, in the classroom helps Leake reach more students and help them learn the notes and the instrument faster.

“That’s why it is so nice to have a second person in class,” Leake said. “It helps speed the process of learning.”

With guitar in hand, Bayless walks around helping fourth-graders get down their chord progression, connecting with each child on their level along the way.

“I urge them not to give up, and to have a growth mindset,” Bayless said. “Those are the main things I want to pass on. The idea of awaking the artist within them, [and] showing them that art is connected to math, science and history.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.