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Jazz Returns To Stage and School…with Challenges

by Chuck Reider, Executive Director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra

This article I will focus on our education programs and to update you on our Diane Schuur concert.

Students are back in school for in-person learning and the music programs have restarted. The Reno Jazz Orchestra (RJO), in response, has restarted our in-person jazz education programs led by Nichole Heglund, our Education Coordinator. Heglund has a new job with the WCSD as an instructional coach for K-12 music programs for new music teachers. It is a new two-year program with an optional third year. She meets with two to three teachers a day to provide resources and observe and assist in the classroom. A lot of teachers are excited about returning to normal as much of last year hindered bands and choirs from rehearsing indoors. This year, students who play wind instruments use bell covers only, but choirs remain masked. The continuing COVID infections are a challenge as several schools had exclusions in the first couple of weeks. With that in mind, Heglund and the district are planning for a regular performance season, with festivals and concerts scheduled to be in person. The RJO Mentor Program will begin again this September.

For ten years we have offered the Mentor Program at no expense to the schools (thank you grantors/donors). This year a record twelve schools requested to participate. Three are middle schools starting a jazz band this year. The program assigns a RJO mentor to work with the band director and school jazz band for eight sessions focusing on jazz feel and performance. The band director can request a mentor that can address specific issues such as brass or saxophone performance. Our challenge is recruiting enough mentors to visit with all twelve schools! The program starts September 13th.

We added a jazz workshop three years ago to focus on jazz improvisation. Band directors are notified by email about workshop and students may sign up for eight Saturday sessions. Here they learn songs by ear. No paper necessary. Dylan Coleman-Tunstall, our workshop director, works with them on techniques on how to improvise on them. This is open to high school and middle school students. The workshops begin mid-September and end with a capstone performance opening for the RJO at the Good Luck Macbeth theater November 20th and 21st.

Jazz in the Schools will be held February 4th and 5th at UNR. This is the program that started all our education efforts. We invite middle school and high school jazz bands to perform on stage at Nightingale Hall, after which a nationally recognized jazz clinician provides feedback on their performances and provide techniques to refine the students jazz performances.

Our education programs will continue to grow and Heglund has some great ideas to do just that, and I will keep you in the loop.Diane Schuur

The joys and trials of live music were on display for our two planned concerts with Grammy award winning jazz artist, Diane Schuur. Doug Coomler conducted the RJO through rehearsals and the August 22nd concert at UNR’s Nightingale Hall. This was Schuur’s first performance in a year and a half and she was nervous during rehearsal. The concert was a different story as she came alive and the RJO was up to meeting the energy she radiated. Both thrilled the audience giving her and the RJO a rousing standing ovation at the end. Because the event was indoors the audience were required to wear masks. The musicians were not when performing. Thanks for that as we would have had to cancel the concert. I want to thank Rich Norris and all his staff at Nightingale Hall who are wonderful hosts providing an inviting space to perform.

We experienced the trials at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Monday night series the next night. With smoke engulfing Lake Tahoe we had to make an early Monday morning decision on whether to cancel. The Shakespeare Festival used a 200 AQI level as a threshold to cancel their performances. That day it was over four hundred so the decision, though disappointing, was made to cancel for the safety of the audience and staff. At 10am RJO staff met online to discuss notifications, especially to that of the ticketholders. In addition, the RJO had teamed with Chase International to host a pre-event at the pavilion at Sand Harbor. With caterer already preparing the food we really did not want to just throw it out. What to do? By 11am the team had developed a webform for ticketholders for handling refunds and ticket donations. That was sent to the Shakespeare Festival to include in their email notice to patrons. The food was donated to the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District in Incline Village, a small thank you. I can’t thank staff enough for great teamwork under a pressure situation!

Making lemonade out of lemons. Schuur was so thrilled by the RJO and disappointed by the cancellation she has offered to return for a performance at no extra fee! Hey maybe for February’s Jazz in the Schools.

Visit the official Diane Schuur Website. Diane's most recent album, Running on Faith, is on sale now.

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