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Underlying the Dahms-Talton Band Shell: A message of transformational power

January 17, 2014

While there has been much attention given to the construction of the Dahms-Talton Band Shell in City Park and the social and economic value this will provide for the City and businesses of Fort Morgan, the construction of the band shell provides another value: a venue for experiencing the transformational power of music.

I recently received a YouTube video clip of a child flawlessly playing one of the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites on a cello he had made out of trash found in the town dump. The contrast of beauty of the music that emerged from the beat-up cans and sticks he called a musical instrument was enough to bring tears to the eyes of every unbiased observer. I believe this clip was from a news segment that was aired a couple of times on the CBS news show, "60 Minutes." The story described how classical music was elevating children out of the psychological damage associated with growing up in extreme poverty in Venezuela. After 30 years of providing a program of training children in classical music, the positive influence of the program has not only proven to transform the lives of individuals, but now is starting to transform the entire country. And the Venezuela National Youth Orchestra is putting Venezuela on the map as a musical Mecca.

There were several key ingredients in the Venezuelan music program that are universal to any similar type of musical training. Through music, children learn self-discipline, the striving for artistic perfection, perseverance, working with others in a cooperative environment, and above all, they learn how to interact with music itself that touches the core of our emotional or sentient being. Understanding and coping with the emotional part of our being helps us develop attitudes about life. Although the majority of children trained in classical music do not pursue music as a profession, they acquire essential life skills - including self-esteem - that elevates them out of a cycle of poverty and enables them to become productive citizens.

The value of musical training in Venezuela gave me pause to reflect on how fortunate we are with the culture we have in eastern Colorado and why there was so much enthusiastic and wide-spread support to build a new band shell. In the process of researching the musical heritage of Fort Morgan for the commemorative booklet and CD set that will be released by Morgan Community College's Center for Arts and Community Enrichment (CACE) at the Band Shell dedication on May 3, it was discovered that Fort Morgan has placed a great cultural value on music since the city was platted in 1884. When I first spoke to the Fort Morgan City Council last year in support of the proposed band shell, I pointed out that I had been at a Morgan County event the previous day in which the 300 attendees spontaneously decided to sing happy birthday to one of the participants. I told the City Council, based on my own observations and experiences, that in no other community the size of Fort Morgan/Morgan County would 300 community members stand up and be able to sing together - in tune - and improvise a harmony as they were singing.

The rich tradition of music in Fort Morgan that includes the church choirs, music education in the schools, community bands and choirs, guest performers, and the level of musical activities that helped nurture and incubate the genius of Glenn Miller, is a community music culture that exhibits many of the key ingredients that are characteristic of the musical training that is transforming Venezuela. The citizens of Fort Morgan and eastern Colorado exhibit self-discipline, perseverance, and they work together in a cooperative environment.

If the transformation through classical music training that is taking place in one of the most impoverished cities in the world provides evidence that music can make a difference in lives and subsequently in society, then the dedication of the Dahms-Talton Band Shell will mark a new venue and a new era for bringing out the potential for loftier heights of greatness for the citizens of Fort Morgan.