The Centralia High School parking lot was nearly full the night of May 7. Nearly 700 people packed bleachers and the gym was filled with sound.
Not the pounding of basketballs against wood, or the slam of athletic high school bodies against wrestling mats.
Instead the sound of woodwinds, brass and percussion, along with orchestral strings, and lots, lots of applause.
That was he sound of people enjoying CHS’ annual Fine Arts Night, an event which people said has grown massively over the last decade.
One of those who shared that belief was Darin Ford, attending his last Fine Arts Night as R-VI superintendent, before his retirement this June.
“It’s just amazing,” he said. “It’s just overwhelming to me to see all of the kids. Around 15 years ago, we had maybe 40 students participating in high school band and the vocal music participation was nowhere near its current level. I was talking to Kim Neighbors and she said we have nearly 125 kids in high school playing a musical instrument, between band and orchestra, which is unheard of. If you get 10 percent of the kids in any given high school playing in band you’re doing really well. So that would 32, nearly a third, That’s really an awesome thing. The teachers we have, they are amazing, the cream of the crop. I’m talking about all our fine arts teachers.”
He credited much of that to orchestra and vocal music teacher Leah Rolfson. He said a decade ago the fine arts participation number were going “really going down so we wrote it into the CSIP plan and we
He said another part of the growth in music participation came from a plan to clear up a misconception.
“Somewhere along the line, students got the idea that you couldn’t participate in band and sports at the same time,” Ford said. “I don’t know where that came from. Anyway, we started having sports participants who were in band or vocal music go the elementary school, primarily the fourth and fifth grade where they were getting ready to start playing an instrument in their jerseys and their cheer leading uniforms talk to classes about how you can no do both and not only can you, but you should because it is good for your mind and your soul. I just think from there it just took off the numbers just took off. It’s really incredible. I’m really proud of them.”
He also mentioned on faculty hire.
“I was sitting in my office one hot summer July day in my office at the high school and the door flies open and this lady from Colorado with wild hair from the windy, hectic day came in came in, toting these two kids asking for a job… That was Leah Rolfson. The kids just adore her and to see what she has done and the next thing I knew she was talking me into letting her start and orchestra class during her planning period… People didn’t think we could support both, orchestra and band. Things grew from there. You had below 40 kids then maybe playing a musical instrument in high school, now you’ve got 125.And that’s not counting vocal music. People who haven’t been out in a while really need to come see our fine arts perform. It’s something special.”
Farmer, basking in the afterglow of her second CHS fine arts night said, “We just increase every year and we just keep increasing the level of difficulty at which we perform. They just keep getting better. We’re at a whole other level now. We still have some room to grow though, we’re not there yet. But we’re right up there with the best band programs in the state now, as far as what they can accomplish.
CHS Principal Matt Smith, watching the appreciative crowd file out had this to say: “”We are extremely lucky here at CHS to have such a strong and well rounded fine arts program, including band, choir, orchestra, and the visual arts. These programs foster creativity and confidence in all our students that take part. Our teaching staff in these programs continually challenges students to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as cultivating the work ethic, self-efficacy, and teamwork skills of our students.”
From Rolfson’s perspective, it has been a wonderful journey and participation has exploded.
“I my goodness, I think I had nine kids in orchestra when we started,” she said afterward. “I think there were at least 76 tonight. Choir I think I had 51 and there are 81 now.”
She said those were the concert choir numbers and chamber choir had grown as well.
“I think the talent level has raised as well. It’s phenomenal. There’s plenty of places to grow. You’re always learning from music. You’re always finding a different piece from which you are always making a different sound of music. You’re always going to go someplace with music.”