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By Rick Artis
Special to The PREVIEW
Mark your calendars for the three remaining “Swinging Sundays,” June 29, July 27 and Aug. 31. Under the direction of Bill Gottschalk, Pagosa Springs’ only big band, Pagosa Swings, will delight audiences and dancers alike with music from the ’20s through the ’80s.
Doors open at 1:30 p.m. The music begins at 2 p.m. All tickets are only $10. Concession snacks will be available.
Recently, Bill Gottschalk, music director of Pagosa Swings, took a few moments to answer questions regarding the development and direction of Pagosa’s only big band.
Many local residents are very excited about having a big band in Pagosa. How long has Pagosa Swings been in the works?
“The idea of having a full-size, fully instrumented, big band in Pagosa Springs has been in the mind of several local musicians for a number of years. Rick Artis provided the main impetus when he was able to locate a source and funding for music for the ensemble. Music can normally cost up to $50-plus per arrangement, and the Pagosa Swings Big Band currently has nearly 100 arrangements in their ‘book.’ The big band first assembled a year and a half ago for a dinner theater production which was held at Pagosa Bible Church. The crowd and musicians enthusiastically enjoyed the evening, and the desire to offer our style of music increased from that inaugural performance. Many of us still enjoy hearing and dancing to those songs that have a melody we recognize, a tune we can whistle and that bring back wonderful memories.”
Tell me a little bit about the makeup of the group, instrumentation, where are players from, how they were selected.
“The Pagosa Swings Big Band is truly a cross-section of our Four Corners community, with retired and active music educators and musicians, a physician’s assistant, three former Army Band musicians, two former Chicago police officers, an ophthalmologist, a carpenter, retired businessmen, a dentist, computer nerds and college musicians. Two of our members are also members of the San Juan Symphony. Players are mostly local, with many key positions being filled by musicians from Ignacio, Durango, and as far away as the Durango Ski Resort area. We all play for the love of music, and you have and will continue to see us playing for musicals in town, with the Community Band, in churches, playing German music, and at weddings and other private parties.
“The Pagosa Swings Big Band is of the standard instrumentation for the period of music which we perform — the ’20s through the ’80s. We use five saxophones, with many doubling on other woodwinds, four trombones, five trumpets, four rhythm, and a female and male vocalist. This instrumentation would be in the style of Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey, etc. As we delve into the music of the ’70s and ’80s, we do our best to recreate the sounds of the Beatles, Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, etc., and come pretty close.”
You retired to Pagosa several years ago. What else have you done within the Pagosa music community?
“My wife and I bought our retirement home here in Pagosa Springs in 1994, and were finally able to retire in 1996. At that time, there was very little active in the music community other than playing in church and the Community Choir. This was quite a change from what we were used to in Houston.
“We left Pagosa for a while in 2001 to travel full time in our RV, and when we returned in 2007, the music world had come alive here in Pagosa Springs. We have been or are active in nearly everything ‘musical’ in Pagosa Springs. From the Community Band (co-founding director), the Community Choir, performing in church, in the pit orchestra for nearly all the musicals in town including high school, Springs Theater Company, CUP, and the Theatre for the Performing Arts, to gathering at homes to play Christmas carols, etc. We both love to play our instruments and take nearly every opportunity to be involved.”
You mentioned being involved with the music scene in the Houston area. What were you able to do there? Did you have the opportunity to play for anyone we might have heard of?
“I was so blessed to have been introduced to the performance side of music by my Uncle Ronnie, a trumpet player who had his music education degree from, at that time, North Texas State University. He was a part-owner of the family bakery in Galveston, Texas, but played ‘gigs’ for fun.
“Through his connections, I was able to join the American Federation of Musicians at age 16, and since then I have been a part of some amazing musical experiences.
“I quickly started to learn other instruments aside from my principal instrument, the alto saxophone. As my mastery of the other woodwind instruments grew, so did the variety and quality of my playing opportunities.
“By the time I finished my master’s degree at the University of Houston, I had played with the Houston Symphony, the Houston Pops, Disney on Ice, the Ice Capades, at Astroworld, with the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus and the Houston Rodeo.
“I also did work on ‘commercials’ and a few records. Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jimmy Durante, Robert Goulet, Phyllis Diller, Jack Jones, Judy Garland, Myron Floren, Dianna Ross and the Supremes, Mitzy Gaynor, Dale Rogers, George Gobel, Jack Benny, Wayne Newton and Henny Youngman are some of the entertainers for which I have played. One December, I played more than 25 jobs, some of which were on the road.
“Aside from playing and performing some of the great music of the world, the camaraderie of being among fellow musicians, sharing these wonderful experiences, is an experience of its own worth. Sitting with great musicians from all varieties of backgrounds to make music is an experience few will ever be blessed to have; no matter the level of achievement, from beginners to mature professionals.”
Tell us a little about your teaching career.
“I graduated from a high school with a very weak band, but my junior high band director was excellent. He allowed me to be his student conductor, even allowing me to prepare a piece for competition. It was he that sparked my desire to study music. I attended the University of Houston earning my bachelor of music education degree, and immediately began my work on a master of music degree with emphasis in music literature and woodwind performance.
“I was a graduate assistant and placed in charge of the marching band, with additional responsibilities of teaching applied saxophone and clarinet. I also taught class woodwinds, conducting and organized the small ensemble workshops.
“Upon receiving my advanced degree, I was offered a position on the faculty continuing with the same duties I had as a graduate assistant. Having stayed at the U of H for two years, I had a difficult decision to make. I had been offered a full scholarship to complete my doctorate at the University of Miami, studying with Alfred Reed, composer, and Frederick Fennell, conductor. Upon the advice of my college mentor, I elected to gain a few years of teaching experience on the secondary level before seeking a doctorate.
“Twenty-eight years later, I retired as a secondary-level music teacher, having worked with some of the best student musicians and their parents in the state of Texas. My first band at the secondary level numbered 83 students — we called ourselves the ‘Might Mini-Band.’ Three years later, that band marched in the Orange Bowl Parade and appeared on national television with 235 student musicians. My largest band numbered 350-plus students when we chartered two planes to march at the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.
“Former students are now deans of music in several universities and conservatories, play with symphonies throughout the world, have become among the best music directors, educators at all levels, doctors, scientists, engineers, workers and businessmen in their fields.”
What do you see in the future for Pagosa Springs music in general?
“With the Pagosa Springs Instrumental Music Society, Curtains Up Pagosa, the Community Choir, the Springs Theater Company, the Center for the Arts and the wonderful support from residents and visitors, I see a bright future ahead for music and theater in Pagosa Springs. There are many, many excellent musicians and teachers in our small town, more than anyone could ever realize. I do have concerns that the current talent pool is aging, and few replacements are on the horizon. Thankfully, with the dedicated music teachers we have in place here in town, the next generation of players is on the way.”
Where would you like to see the Pagosa Swings Big Band head from here?
“I am excited about the future of Pagosa Swings. As we develop the ‘book’ and recruit additional musicians, I see many more years of playing the standards and classics we have grown to love. The band is dedicated to continuing as long as there are folks who enjoy swing music, which could be until the end of time.
“With the positive response we’ve seen so far, our summer big band dances may increase next summer and we may be seen at some of the big events around town very soon.”
Also continuing through the summer:
Monday, June 30, and each Monday until Aug. 25 (except Aug. 4), StageStruck will present a brand new melodrama, “It’s All or Nothing or Twenty-One and No Beau in Sight.” As with any good melodrama, there will be plenty of opportunities to cheer the hero and boo the villain.
Doors open at 6 p.m. in anticipation of a 6:30 p.m. curtain. Concession snacks will be available beforehand and during intermission. Family friendly ticket prices are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Little ones 4 and younger are admitted free.
Wednesday, July 2, and each Wednesday until Aug. 27 (except July 30), guests are invited to play along and solve a murder mystery. “Girl’s Night Out” will test the audience’s sleuthing ability as the murder takes place during dinner at A Taste of Tuscany restaurant.
A three-course meal will be served during the performance. Again, doors open at 6 p.m. with a 6:30 p.m. curtain. All seats for this evening’s entertainment are $30, and advance purchase is required, with ticket purchase for each performance ceasing early in the morning on the day of each the shows.
StageStruck Productions’ pavilion tent is erected on the grounds of the Canyon Crest Lodge, located at 580 Yeoman Drive, near the end of Trails Boulevard. For those unfamiliar with how to find the property, detailed directions are available at springstheatrecompany.org/CanyonCrestMap.htm.
Colorado evenings can become quite cool. Jackets or layered clothing is recommended.
Tickets for all performances are available on the Springs Theatre Company website (SpringsTheatreCompany.org/Tickets.htm). For additional information, please call 946-1262.