Printed on: December 30, 2012

Salmon's 'Music Man'

Performing arts thriving under John Anderson's direction

By Laura Zuckerman
news@postregister.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: In our Sunday Smart Living section, the Post Register is taking a snapshot of people, places and things unique to eastern Idaho. Send your idea to news@postregister.com.

SALMON -- When John Anderson arrived in Salmon to oversee the school district's performing arts department six years ago, the program had dwindled to just 16 instrumentalists.

Today, the 32-year-old music man leads a department that nurtures the musical talents and performances of 180 students.

Parents and students give the credit to Anderson for the thriving band and music programs.

"He's taken a department that was bare bones and has had to think outside-the-box about how to re-engage students," said Angie Hurley, whose two daughters have benefited from Anderson's tutelage.

But Anderson, who can play every instrument from flute to saxophone and every musical style from classical to jazz -- with ease -- said the merit lies with the community.

"I'm humbled by everyone's support," he said.

Anderson and his students regularly perform for parents, as well as the broader community.

Concerts at the schools are bolstered by a musical each spring and a communitywide singing competition -- modeled after "American Idol" -- each fall.

The contest, "Salmon Idol," has attracted standing-room only audiences since its inception in 2008 and generated roughly $5,000 during the last two years. The funds are applied to such extracurricular expenses such as bus trips for students appearing in choir competitions.

Anderson arrived in Salmon in 2006 determined to open opportunities for students in a rural area.

"Small towns sometimes get the short end of the stick," he said. "Instructors may come but they may not stay. Music departments require a lot of investments on the part of students and families. And no one wants to invest in something temporary."

Despite challenges that include the remoteness of the location, which puts the district at a disadvantage for travel costs, Anderson believes there is no impediment to a top-notch music program in Salmon.

"The students need it, the community deserves it," he said.

Anderson, a graduate of Weber State University in Utah, took up the flute, an instrument his teacher-parents could afford, while in seventh grade. He rated his early musical efforts as average.

"It wasn't until I was in 10th grade that I started realizing I could have access to a private teacher; and it was possible to learn to play some of the cool stuff I wanted to play," he said. "Something clicked and I made a commitment."

Anderson worked summer jobs to pay for private lessons. That taught him an important lesson he now applies to his own students.

"My students here do not have access to private lessons to the extent I did," he said. "So, I do my best to investigate instruments I don't know and work with my students, one on one, to help them achieve some of those things they wouldn't get in a traditional band class."

Anderson performs in groups and solo. The dynamics are different.

"With a group, you really have to know what your role is at every moment. Oftentimes, you're an accompaniment to someone else, you're playing a supportive role and you must be sensitive to that," he said.

Playing solo allows for a certain skill and musicality that cannot be expressed by groups, Anderson said.

An example is his personal favorite, Mozart's Concerto in D for flute and orchestra.

"It's a concerto written for solo instruments and orchestra accompaniment. The flute parts are so flashy and quick and there is such a variation of expressions and dynamics that a musician is immediately attracted to it," he said.

Anderson, who was principal flutist with Weber State University Symphony Orchestra, has loaned his talents to the fundraising efforts of several Salmon nonprofits.

Hurley, who has worked with the music program as a supporter and parent, said Anderson connects with students.

"They respect him; they enjoy the class and don't even know they're learning," she said

Hurley remembered the holiday concert that featured Anderson's beginning guitar class.

"There were 21 guitarists on the stage with him," she said. "Then he stepped off the stage and totally let them perform.

"He's passionate and he believes in his students and that comes through in everything he does."