By Ellie Livingston

Photo by Eric Sandbulte, Brookings Register

“Through the arts, children are presented with huge amounts of new information that they process and use to participate in activities they enjoy. Through the arts, children develop creative skills, which carry them toward new ideas, new experiences and new challenges, not to mention a great deal of satisfaction. This is the intrinsic value of the arts, and it cannot be overestimated in any way.”

-Michael Huckabee, Governor of Arkansas, July 2004

I had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan Bakken and Kathy Winghart in the orchestra room at Camelot Intermediate School in Brookings this past week. I went in with the intent of talking about a new and exciting fundraiser they are heading up for the orchestra program but what I learned was so much more inspiring.

The need for fine arts in schools is a passion of mine. To pull from the quote from Michael Huckabee, “Through the arts, children develop creative skills which carry them toward new ideas, new experiences and new challenges, not to mention a great deal of satisfaction.”

While talking to Bakken and Winghart I realized I was talking to two people with my exact same passion. Their love of teaching and playing strings has taken hold in Brookings, in a big way. Both Bakken and Winghart have degrees in string performance, both ended up in Brookings, and are now leading the way in one of the fastest growing orchestra programs I have ever heard of.

Here are some numbers:

  • In 2011 when Winghart started in the Brookings School System, the total number of orchestra students was 22.
  • In just one year Winghart grew the program to 143.
  • In 2013, a second string teacher was needed and Jonathon Bakken was hired.
  • In the 2014-2015 school year, the total enrollment for the Bobcat Orchestra is 365!

They are projecting 462 for the next school year. With that kind of growth comes the need for support. Bakken and Winghart are both advocates of giving chances to any and all students who want it, no matter their financial situation. This means much of their budget goes into purchasing strings for any students who need them.

That brings us to A Little Knight Music, a collection of songs composed by every member of the Camelot Orchestra.

album cover

As a self-proclaimed Sondheim nut, the title of the album caught me right away. Each student was given the task to compose a small piece, roughly thirty seconds. Bakken has a love for fostering music composition in students and has been working on this project since January. After the student finished their piece Bakken went back and wrote and recorded the piano layers for each piece. There are 75 pieces in all. The album can be purchased and downloaded online. It is Bakken’s hope to raise around $600 with this project (and make it an annual thing).

The goals for the Bobcat Orchestra are simple; to raise enough money to purchase desperately needed instruments, to help with the storage situation because of the influx of instruments, to install a wireless microphone system so all of the students can hear the teacher’s instructions, and to establish educational travel opportunities for students.

After talking with these two talented and inspiring teachers I walked away thinking, “yes!” YES!

They embody the drive and tenacity of so many fine art educators I have met and worked with. They are driven, vivacious and relentless when it comes to getting what is best for their students. They know the importance of the arts in the schools, they understand that well-rounded students do better in their endeavors, and their eyes are constantly on the future. Not just making this year great, but building towards a future and creating opportunities for every kid to be involved, no matter what.

Brookings has a flourishing orchestra program, which is a rare thing to be able to say these days. Most of it is because of these two remarkable educators and the rest of it is because of the city’s culture. The kids and parents in this town are hungry for these kinds of opportunities. It is refreshing to see a school system that is working hard to support the arts, and kids who are ready for the challenge.

bobcat orchestra logo TIF - black

If you would like to see the Bobcat Orchestra in action you can check out their spring concert on May 4 at the Performing Arts Center on the SDSU campus. Fourth and Fifth graders perform at 6 p.m. and the Middle School and High School perform at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free, but get there early!

You can also listen to and purchase A Little Knight Music here:

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