MTHS arts set a tone

DeWayne Bartels
Justin Lane on trumpet, plays a solo during the MTHS Jazz Ensemble performance Jan. 26.

Chris Render could not contain himself.

As the band played and Ron Carter wailed on his saxophone, Render was shouting and waving his arms. He was nearly lost in music.

Render was not alone. The audience at the Peoria Civic Center on Jan. 26, clapped and stomped their feet in time to the sounds filling the air.

But, this was not some big-time band — far from it. It was the Metamora High School Jazz ensemble, conducted by Render. The ensemble’s members might not be a big-time band, but they blew, plucked and beat big sounds.

And, these students were just part of the musical assault MTHS brought to the Illinois Music Education Association convention in Peoria Jan. 25-28.   

Stand outs

The performance by the jazz ensemble, left retired MTHS superintendent Ken Maurer who was in the audience, almost speechless.

“Unbelievable,” he said, when asked to critique their performance. “I’m very proud of them.”

Carter, a professor of music at Northern Illinois University, who has been working with the Metamora students, beamed at the end of their performance. “These are some hard-working kids,” Carter said.

“They keep getting better and better.”

There was no less an enthusiastic response on Jan. 28 when the MTHS Wind Ensemble performed a selection of classic and an original composition of Brazilian music by Dr. Gregory Beyer, who has been working with the ensemble.

Bill Rodier, whose son Jordan plays the euphonium in the wind ensemble, was smiling broadly at the conclusion of their concert.

Bill said his son has been playing music for six years.

“He just has a real passion for music,” Bill said. “MTHS has allowed him to explore music and makes him a better musician.”  

Nancy Rodier, Jordan’s mother, added, “It’s phenomenal what they do.”

Bill nodded in agreement. He said MTHS is a real asset to his son’s education.

“MTHS is one of the top arts schools in the area,” Bill said.

Committed

MTHS, because of a years-long commitment to musical education, stands out as a leader in arts education across the state, according to several people.

Render, associate director of bands/instrumental music at MTHS, said MTHS is “definitely” one of the leaders in high school arts in the state.

“MTHS is a school that gives students a good education and the opportunity for wide exposure to the arts,” Render said.    

MTHS boasts that more than half of its 976 students are involved in the high school’s music program. That program consists of classes, two concert bands, marching band, jazz ensemble, two steel drum bands, guitar, piano, hand drumming, five choirs and music theory.

Render said the breadth and depth of the music program at MTHS still leaves him amazed, even after eight years.

“In most schools it’s either sports or the arts,” Render said. “MTHS has both. We have it going on. We produce kids who will go on to do great things.”

Render said to have the music program MTHS has at such a small school does not leave him surprised.

“Surprised? No. I’m blessed,” Render said.

“We are not the most normal thing in the area.”

Dr. Wally Parks, director of bands/instrumental music, and conductor of the MTHS Wind Ensemble, like Render, said he feels blessed to be at a school with such a commitment to music.

Parks, who has been teaching music for 30 years, has spent the last 21 years at MTHS.

“I think our kids are leaders in music in the whole state,” Parks said. “There’s a place for all students in our program. In any given year Chris and I are seeing a large portion of the student body.”

Recognized

Parks said he is also pleased MTHS is recognized as a leading arts school.

Suzette Boulais, executive director of ArtsPartners in Peoria, said Parks is right.

“Metamora is a leader. Large or small school it comes down to individuals who support the arts. Metamora has them. It’s not about a large or small school. It’s about people who want to raise the bar for students,” Boulais said.

Parks said he has been “absolutely” surprised time after time at the commitment MTHS has to the arts.

“I talk to my colleagues and tell them how truly blessed I am. This is a great gig,” Parks said.

Asked if he has ever had a worry about the arts being trimmed at MTHS, Parks smiled.

“Ken (Maurer) was so instrumental in expanding the arts at MTHS. I was nervous when he announced his retirement,” Parks said.

“I was very relieved when Randy (Toepke) was selected as his replacement.”