Students making music in the mountains

Montezuma-Cortez High School seniors, from left to right, Eliezer Flores, Sarah Lewis and Hayden Cook, traveled to Gunnison to play with the Western State College Honor Band. Enlargephoto

Journal/Brandon Mathis

Montezuma-Cortez High School seniors, from left to right, Eliezer Flores, Sarah Lewis and Hayden Cook, traveled to Gunnison to play with the Western State College Honor Band.

Three local students will be making music in the mountains this weekend.

Montezuma-Cortez High School jazz band seniors Eliezer Flores, Sarah Lewis and Hayden Cook headed to Western State College in Gunnison on Thursday to join 60 other Colorado high school students who were selected for this year’s Western State College Honor Band.

Students from across the state auditioned for the opportunity.

“There were about 500 students that sent in tapes,” said M-CHS Music Program Director Rodney Ritthaler. “To make it is a tremendous honor and reward for a lot of hard work and dedication.”

Ritthaler said that auditions began in November and eight M-CHS students were selected, but four were participating in a Knowledge Bowl competition and couldn’t make the trip.

The three jazz ensemble players will also be heading to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in April as part of the Colorado All-State Band. Trumpeter Kyle Baacke, who is also participating in the Knowledge Bowl, will join the group at the state competition.

“All-State Band is like if you’re a state wrestler or a state football player. It’s state for band,” Ritthaler said.

Flores, Lewis and Baake were selected for All-State Concert Band, and Cook will be in All-State Symphonic, the hardest group to get into according to Ritthaler.

Of 838 students that auditioned for Symphonic All-State, 111 students were selected from 52 schools, according to the University of Northern Colorado website.

The student musicians all said they enjoy the experience of traveling and playing with new ensembles.

“It’s kind of challenging music,” said Flores, who plays French horn. “It’s exciting to play it.”

Just before leaving Cortez, Lewis, who plays clarinet, admitted she was nervous about the trip to Gunnison.

“I guess I’m kind of nervous today because we have to audition for our chair,” Lewis said Thursday.

She said she likes playing because of all the people, the interactions, but most of all, the music. Ritthaler added its fun to travel and make music with other students from all over Colorado, and doing so with different ensembles is a good experience for advanced players.

Cook has played trombone for seven years and bass trombone for the last five.

“This year’s music looks like it’s going to be really good, upbeat and challenging. It should be a really fun weekend,” Cook said.

Cook’s mother, Jacque Cook is excited about her son’s musical interest.

“When we first moved here 11 years ago, we didn’t realize what a big deal band was,” she said.

“When Hayden was a freshman we were going to state in Denver and it was really our first time to watch them and we thought ‘Oh my gosh, this is huge. This is a big deal,’” she said.

She soon discovered how important band is to the M-CHS community.

“I could not believe it. I’m still amazed at the parents that support these kids. It takes a lot of dedication.” Cook said.

Students meet for practice before school and even come in early on Friday to play. Ritthaler said the feeling of accomplishment is what it’s all about as he watches his students grow as musicians.

“When you’re getting good enough to make All-State Band or honors band or even playing in the ensembles here, which are pretty complex, it’s not only sheer joy of producing and playing music, but they take that and transfer it to other aspects of their lives,” Ritthaler said.

Ritthaler has been teaching music at M-CHS for 23 years.

Reach Brandon Mathis at brandonm@cortezjournal.com