Bethany Wanket: A Music in the Mountains magnum opus

Magnum opus. You’ve probably heard the term. It’s Latin for “great work.”

You might not realize it if you passed her on the street, but Bethany Wanket is a magnum opus, musically speaking. She’s got a dream, she has a plan, and she gives a good deal of the credit to Music in the Mountains.

Even though she says she can’t really explain why, eight years ago Bethany got it in her head that she wanted to play the violin. She’d already been playing piano (instructed by her mom) from the age of 5 when, she recalls, “I asked my parents for a violin and they gave me one for Christmas when I was eight years old”. Planning ahead, parents Craig and Brenda Wanket also included a do-it-yourself video for beginning violinists. After nearly a year of trying to teach herself, she felt as though she wasn’t really getting anywhere and asked her parents for violin lessons. Willing to take on all that their daughter’s request implied, they agreed to it. Bethany began private lessons in September 2002.

It was a bit of a rough start, Bethany recalls. She admits with some regret that she didn’t practice as much as she could have those first few years. But her life as a student violinist changed radically in the summer of 2006 when she was encouraged by her instructor, Kate Kelley, to apply for a scholarship to attend Conservatory Music in the Mountains. The conservatory, held on the campus of Fort Lewis College in Durango, offers training to young string students from virtual beginner-level to the most advanced students who come from all over the world to participate.

She was successful in winning the scholarship, utilizing funds that were donated by attendees of the Music in the Mountains benefit concerts and by Jim Fitzgerald of Citizens Bank of Pagosa Springs. The young Pagosa musician was off to a one-week beginners’ program known as Kids with Strings Attached. “I loved being with so many kids my age who played violin. It was inspiring to me. Hearing all those good players made me want to play more and work harder”. This appears to be an almost universal effect for students who have an opportunity to attend the three-week summer program.

A life-changing summer concert

But that’s not all that happened in Bethany’s young music career that summer of 2006. She was invited as a guest of Music in the Mountains Pagosa to attend a chamber concert held at BootJack Ranch in July. “Dueling Violins,” as that evening’s program was titled, featured two world-class violinists — Philippe Quint and Vadim Gluzman. Quint and Gluzman began their performance, and Bethany says she was instantly mesmerized. “That night, when I realized just what I could do with my violin if I worked at it, there was so much more I wanted to accomplish”. She now declares that ”Dueling Violins” was a pivotal experience in her life.

The first thing she did was to extend her practice time and form a few goals that she would focus on. In her first summer at the conservatory, she had discovered there was a concert orchestra for more skilled players. That became Goal No. 1 for the following summer. In 2007 she was awarded another Music in the Mountains scholarship, this time for two weeks, and applied to be part of that concert orchestra. Not surprisingly, they took her in with open arms. She also received private lessons over the course of those two weeks with Russian-born violinist/violist Valeri Avramenko. “He has been so amazing. He’s pushed me as far as I could go. I couldn’t believe someone like him was my teacher”.

Unstoppable

From September 2007 forward, Bethany became unstoppable. Kelley recalls putting more and more challenging music in front of her and determining that there was nothing that Bethany wasn’t willing to pursue. One day, in Spring 2008, she arrived at her lesson with a copy of Carmen Fantasy by Pablo de Sarasate, one of her favorite composers. “I’ve been watching this on YouTube and learning how to play it. Can you help me? I want to compete at the Colorado State Fair with it.” And compete she did. She brought home the Reserve Grand Champion prize.

For her third experience at Conservatory Music in the Mountains, Bethany was once again awarded a two-week scholarship. In addition to being delighted at discovering she would receive private lessons with Avramenko for a second year, she had set her sights on being part of the elite Conservatory Chamber Orchestra in which the finest and most advanced students have the privilege of participating. She auditioned and was selected for the chamber orchestra and, although the experience seemed daunting to her at first, she and her fellow chamber orchestra members put on a first-rate performance of quite challenging pieces by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Maurice Ravel, and Aaron Copland, to name a few.

At Kelley’s strong encouragement, Bethany has been studying this year with Dr. Kasia Sokol , a member of the Fort Lewis College music faculty. Dr. Sokol also conducts the Durango Youth Symphony, of which Bethany is a member of the first violin section. On Thursdays, she drives back over to Durango to be a part of a chamber orchestra comprised of high school and college students there.

Busily involved

Think that’s enough for one not-quite-seventeen-year-old to be involved in? Think again.

Bethany is concertmistress for the newly-formed Pagosa Youth String Orchestra where she not only guides and encourages by her example but also very ably leads section rehearsals. She is an indispensable assistant to organizer/conductor Kelley.

Bethany is also a third-year member of what is now known as the Fiore String Quartet, skillfully covering the first violin parts. In fact, as part of an upcoming April 30 fund-raiser for Music in the Mountains conservatory scholarships and schools programs, the quartet will be auctioned to play at the highest bidder’s dinner party, wedding, or other private celebration.

In addition, Bethany’s a seasoned pit orchestra member, performing in several local productions including last November’s formidable Music Boosters’ “Into the Woods” which received enthusiastic reviews for its instrumental music. And Bethany’s jumped in again, currently participating as one of three violinists for Pagosa Springs High School’s production of “West Side Story.”

As if this wasn’t enough to make you say “Wow!” a few times in a row, the young soloist has also begun leaving a legacy of her own, taking on one young violin student. “He’s really improving. I can tell how much better he is in just one year”. How could he not be? Look who his teacher is.

And just in case you’re tempted to peg her as a “music nerd,” Bethany maintains balance in her life as a 4-H member, raising rabbits and Scottish Highlander cattle. In fact, she toted home the Supreme Grand Champion award from the state fair last year for her efforts with her cattle. She’s also an avid and very proficient snowboarder, heading to Wolf Creek with her friends as often as she can.

Bethany hopes to attend Conservatory Music in the Mountains once again this summer, this time to study with violin professor Kasia Sokol. At this time she’s intently working to learn Dmitri Kabalevsky’s “Violin Concerto in C Major,” a 15-minute performance piece with which she plans to enter the Conservatory Young Artists’ Competition and return to the 4-H arts competition. That would help to account for why her daily practice sessions are now usually five hours long.

This coming September, with the support of Dr. Sokol, Bethany is on her way to Fort Lewis College to study the violin, and with a college scholarship to boot. This means that during the current academic year she’s had to put her home school studies into high gear in order to finish an extra year’s work by this summer. No easy task, but consider who’s taking it on — a girl with a vision for her life who has a history of setting high goals and achieving them. And what about after college?

“I would like to continue teaching violin, but I would really love to have a career performing music also. I love traveling so think it would be amazing to be able to travel and perform around the world. Another thing that I want to do is to play in more violin competitions.” Bethany’s also set her sights on returning to the Music in the Mountains stage one day as a soloist.

Music in the Mountains supporters may all take a lingering and well-deserved bow. Their investment in Bethany Wanket appears to be paying back exceptionally high dividends, and the return on investment isn’t over yet. Keep your eyes on the horizon for Bethany Wanket. This brilliant star has a lot of shining yet to do.

And considering her track record, it might be prudent for music aficionados to bid on April 30 for the private quartet performance. Best guess is that the “relative unknown” status of this lovely young magnum opus isn’t going to last.


Photo courtesy Kate Kelley
Bethany Wanket, of Pagosa Springs, leads a busy life — not the least part of which is her burgeoning career as a violist. With continuing assistance from the organization, she is truly a Music in the Mountains Magnum Opus.