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Keeping the music alive

Gold Beach High School band members practice inside the Backwoods Home Magazine office. The Pilot/Randy Robbins
Gold Beach High School band members practice inside the Backwoods Home Magazine office. The Pilot/Randy Robbins
Boom! Boom! Boom!

Heather Adams, an employee of the Gold Beach-based Backwoods Home Magazine, perks up from the mountain of paper work on her desk. 

She shares a knowing smile with a nearby co-worker. Yup. It’s that time again. Just a hair past two in the afternoon.

Da-Bam. Bam. Bam! The big bass drum is keeping perfect time.

Toot-ahhhh-toooot!

A soulful blend of several brassy horns warms up, synchronizing beautifully, wafting  through a nearby office wall.

The members of the Gold Beach High School Band, under the watchful direction of Ilene Duffy, are getting their groove on.  And magazine staff doesn’t mind at all – in fact, a few are tapping their feet in time with the music.

“Our employees like the music in the background,” said Dave Duffy, publisher of the magazine.

“A door separates the band from our constantly ringing phones so our ladies have a soft symphony in the background as they talk to customers. It’s worked out very well. It’s like ‘Musak,’ only with a live orchestra,” he said. 

The school band currently has a home thanks to Dave and Ilene Duffy, who let the young musicians practice at the office.

If not for that, the band likely wouldn’t exist. 

It was only a few short months ago that the band, now a school club, was, to quote a Paul McCartney song, a “band on the run.”

Two years ago, budget cuts forced the Central Curry School District into a difficult decision: shut down either the arts or the music department. Before deciding, a bond measure meant to raise tax revenue for school programs was put to Gold Beach voters, and failed.

Soon after, band director Mike Reetz left for a music teaching job in Eugene; his departure seemingly sealed the music program’s fate. The school board voted to keep the arts program, but the music program remained on the chopping block.

Community volunteer Norm Rowe, who was a bus driver for the district and a musician for the Curry Del Norte Orchestra, stepped in to keep the music alive. Unfortunately, Rowe died of a heart attack in 2011. 

Enter Ilene Duffy.

Duffy, a former credentialed teacher who worked in California for nine years, had quit teaching to become business manager at Backwoods Home Magazine with her husband and publisher Dave Duffy. Music was, and still is, her passion. 

“Lenie” as she is known, volunteered to pick up where Rowe left off. She knew the kids well, having volunteered in the Riley Creek Elementary School classrooms for 15 years. 

Lenie had also been the high school’s choir pianist for five years. With a new volunteer band instructor in place, not only did the school have it’s band back, the Panther Band excelled, coming within a hair of winning the District Festival competition.

However, the band  came under the scrutiny of the state’s Teachers Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) after a complaint was filed by the Central Curry Education Association’s (CCEA) union.

According to Superintendent Jeff Davis, the union claimed that Duffy wasn’t certified to teach in Oregon.

The TSPC investigation recommended that Davis “immediately cancel” both band and choir classes, which he did.

Furthermore, the TSPC further ordered the band off campus. 

Hoping to avoid that, Davis listed himself as the “Teacher of Record,” but it didn’t work. 

“It’s unfortunate the way this has turned out,” Davis said. “Every decision I made, was made to benefit the kids. I wish we could have talked (with the teachers’ union) about it and figured out a way to make it work.”

The CCEA union representative, Holly Stephens, declined to comment for this story.

The band will not likely receive additional support from Davis as he will be resigning his position at the end of the current school year to take a job in Washington.

Meanwhile, after receiving the bad news that the musicians could no longer use the high school’s band room, the Duffys decided to open their office, across the street from the school, to the band.

The couple cleared out a large room, transforming it overnight into a band room. 

The Duffys, known for supporting local youth organizations, and the 15 band students immediately formed a high school “club.” 

Wild Rivers Junior Golf, a group that supports the high school’s golf teams, donated $1,000 to the band club, some of which was intended to offset the cost of the band’s hoped-for trip to see the Blue Man Group perform in Las Vegas later this year.

“The kids had been doing fundraisers all year long and we weren’t about to see all their hard work go down the drain,” Lenie said.  

Another community member has also donated $200 to their cause. Their trip is on track to happen late next month, she said.

“More people in the community will step forward to fill the voids left by budget cutbacks in education,” Dave Duffy said. “This is very healthy. I think there are a lot of adults in our communities with talent and an eagerness to help out. They’ve been left out of the education mix for too long. 

He added, “Ironically, I think this long recession will end up helping education by infusing it with new ideas and new talent.”

The Gold Beach High School band now has a place to practice and the support of local residents, but its student members don’t receive school credit.

The band meets every school day from 2:20 to 3:05 p.m. They will perform a spring concert at the school April 17 and plan to compete in the District Festival on April 10 at Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay.

The students do not pay for the class and they are able to use existing school instruments. However, some students provide their own. Seven of the current band students will graduate in June.

The Duffys hope the school district will soon hire a middle school music director so students there will learn an instrument and be proficient by the time they reach high school. There has been no music teacher at the middle school for two years, Ilene said.

~~~

On a recent Wednesday, the music students are practicing a fairly complicated section of the movie soundtrack from “The Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Student Nathan Hanna, 16, pulls at a black knit cap that all but hides his eyes. He plays all manner of drums.

“I love everything about band,” he said.

He also has a soft, maroon-colored guitar case slung over one shoulder.

“That’s my Taylor acoustic guitar,” the multi-talented boy said, a smile emerging from under the cap.

Kirsten McGarvey, 19, plays percussion as well. 

“We are so grateful for this place,” she said, sweeping her hand in a wide gesture around the room. She elbows Hanna. “It’s a good change, right?” 

Later that day, fellow musician Kanaan Shaw warms up on a trombone. Lenie, up front, taps her conductor’s stick on a black metal stand to get their attention. 

“All right everybody. Let’s get busy!” she said.

 The students fall into line and are ready to play, eagerly watching their director — a woman who, with her husband, kept the music alive for them.

The kids’ parents are very appreciative of the Duffy’s efforts.

“It’s great that the (students) can have a place to have their band. It’s amazing that there is a business in town that is giving up the space to allow them to have their club. Who else in town would have done that,” asked parent David Hanna.

~~~

To donate to the band, make checks payable to the GBHS Band and send them to Backwoods Home Magazine, PO Box 712, Gold Beach, OR 974444, or drop them by the magazine office at 29545 Ellensburg Ave in Gold Beach. To contact Dave or Ilene Duffy, call 541-247-8900. 

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