Pennies from heaven as music dept. receives $10k

Alastair Baker
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, October 11, 2018
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Photo by Mike Booth
Far left, front, Red Lodge music teacher Jennifer Coutts stands with her band students after accepting a $10,000 check from the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival board during half time at the Rams Colstrip game last Friday.

Like a bolt from the blue $10,000 landed at the door to the Red Lodge Music Department last Friday night during half time at the Rams football game with Colstrip. 

The announcement fought against the wind and cold but its content was greeted with warmth and delighted cheers.

“We have a special presentation tonight from the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival (RLSWF). Its board of directors is proud to gift the Red Lodge Public Schools Music Department with a check for $10,000.  They would like to thank the community, their sponsors and their fans for their continued support.”

And with that the dreams have already begun.

Jason Reimer, Roosevelt Middle School Principal, was “speechless.” 

“I was blown away. A $1,000 blows us away but $10,000 is outstanding,” said Reimer. 

“When you think about that kind of donation to a public school in small town Montana…in the bigger hubs like Bozeman and Billings, Missoula you might have a community that can bring those kind of resources…but a small town class B school! That’s what makes Red Lodge really unique. We have so much culture and support that is very unique to this size of a town in Montana,” he said. “For Mike Booth (RLSWF director) and the song writers board to put this forward is outstanding. I really feel like we owe them a great deal of gratitude and owe them to make these music programs even more outstanding than they are.” 

“We can use this money to make it a top tier music program, so people will say ‘what’s going on in Red Lodge?’”, said Reimer. 

Jennifer Coutts, who teaches 5th-8th grade and oversees the high school choir and band, is still coming to grips with the donation.

“It’s like you can’t believe it. I think about how blessed I am to be in this community, not just monetary but with the help and support from the community and the people cheering you on,” said Coutts. 

“Music is for everybody. One of the things you hope to achieve, not just by using instruments, is deepening the students’ appreciation of music so as they grow up they can be musicians or support the arts. Because who is going to sing to our kids?” said Coutts. “The rich traditions we have with our patriotic songs and the Festival of Nations, you have to pass it down.”

Coutts also hopes that some of the money will go towards a new drum riser so the band can join the fans and cheerleaders on the gym floor instead of being alone up in the bleachers. She also hopes to improve the look of the present music room, having instrument lockers instead of shelving and be able to replace a flute or a trombone as well. 

Travis Burdick who teaches music to K-8 would like some new ukuleles and guitars.

The donation by the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival board, that consists of Booth, Jayne Laurence, Tera Reynolds, James Dean Hicks and Cory Johnson, is centered on the desire to “promote music education and allow schools, with funding being cut, to buy things they can’t do on a normal budget,” said Booth. 

In previous years Red Lodge High School has received over $8,000 for which new band uniforms were purchased. 

Next year the board is hoping the donations will expand and they can create a grant program so other schools in Carbon County can apply. 

“Think about music, it is a universal language. When you live in a rural community, opportunities are limited and this is a chance to expand music,” said Booth. 

“I’m excited for the smaller schools from Fromberg, Bridger,” said board member Laurence.  “Being able to help to further music education in our public schools makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

Booth and company also see this as a chance “to inspire kids to write a song.”

“At our festival you may not know who Eric Criswell is but you’d know him when he plays his songs. Trisha Yearwood recorded one of his songs. You don’t have to be a star to influence music,” said Booth. 

“Part of Red Lodge’s long term health of this community includes music and arts and if we can add to that for 3 days in June…there is a lot of amazingly talented musicians here,” he said. 

The Festival has also presented scholarships to students.

The Third Annual RLSWF took place June 21- 23 this year. Visitors enjoyed shows performed by Nashville Hit Songwriters on Thursday, Friday and nearly 500 fans attended Saturday night’s final performance. The Nashville Hit songwriters included Hall of Fame Songwriter Hugh Prestwood, Brett Jones, Wynn Varble, Helen Darling, Kostas and James Dean Hicks. Rising Star songwriters from Montana and Wyoming performed an additional twelve shows at the pubs and parks throughout the three days. Next year the 4th Annual festival is scheduled for June 20-22, 2019. The Red Lodge Songwriter Festival Inc. is a 501(c)(3) corporation.