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Cortez Middle School band continues to make a name for music in the district

A Cortez Middle School record of 10 students qualified for All-State Choir. (Marla Sitton/Courtesy Photo)
The band wins multiple awards and had students qualify for high-level competitions

The Montezuma-Cortez Middle School band and choir continued their trajectory of success in the 2023-2024 school year.

In August, the band was awarded 11 new instruments by the Bringing Music to Life Foundation, and their story was featured in the Denver Post and CPR Radio for their accomplishments.

In December, the band placed second in their division at the 2023 Cortez Parade of Lights.

Band Director Andrew Campo told The Journal that this year boasts the largest middle school band in memory, as over 200 students have participated this year.

“It’s been a very strong year,” Campo said. “We started out with the donation of instruments, which helps us because this year is the biggest we’ve ever been, and we needed those extra instruments to hit the ground running.”

The 2023-2024 Montezuma-Cortez Middle School band. (Andrew Campo/Courtesy photo)

The band was also awarded the National Association of Music Merchants SelectMusic Merit Award for the fourth time in five years.

This award is given to 122 elementary, middle or high schools in the U.S. each year.

According to Campo, their review said MCMS is a great place for students to learn more about music because of the positive enrollment numbers, quality of instruction, knowledge and number of teachers, strong support from school administration and the community, the group’s “strong belief in inclusion and diversity of the program” and overall quality.

Campo added that the school district reinstated the assistant music teacher position and hired Chris Moraga.

Choir Director Marla Sitton noted that this year the most students ever were selected for the middle school All-State Choir, with 10 students qualifying for All-State.

To get chosen for All-State Choir, students have to learn various techniques that they showcase in an audition. If chosen, the students will be notified around Thanksgiving.

“They have to learn a series of skills. They have to learn a short song and we make a recording of it,” Sitton said. “They have to do a couple of scales and a couple of triads and then they have to show that they can hold their part. It’s called a part singing exercise.”

Once students are selected, they have mere weeks to learn five or six songs that they will perform with other students across the state.

Then, they have the chance to perform with their peers at the Bellco Theatre at the Convention Center in Denver.

“It’s a high honor,” Sitton said.

Six eighth graders were selected for the Fort Lewis Honor Band and earned an excellent rating on state and a superior in sight reading at the NWNMMEA Large Group Evaluation in Bloomfield.

The NWNMMEA trophy won by the MCMS 7th and 8th grade band members. (Andrew Campo/Courtesy Photo)

The seventh grade band was given a superior rating on their prepared pieces and a superior rating in sight reading.

“We hadn’t been able to go (to the evaluation) since right before COVID hit, to it was fun to go and be successful there,” Campo said.

Finally, the MCMS band was selected as one of the first 100 schools in the U.S. to be part of Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation Adopt-A-School program.

Campo said that Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang donated the first $100,000 to the program, and $1,000 of that was donated to MCMS.

Campo noted that it is important to the music teachers involved in the program that they maintain their standard of excellence.

“We demand that we keep our standards high,” Campo said. “I can’t tolerate it if our bands aren’t really good, and she (Sitton) can’t tolerate if the choir is big but not good, and I think the kids come in and they see that and think, ‘Wow, this is something really cool. This makes me feel good, I’m getting some skills and I’m part of something special.’”

Both Campo and Sitton shared that their favorite parts of being involved in the music programs are seeing students learn new skills and grasp difficult concepts.

“I absolutely love when the kids get it and they either hear the parts they can understand and how a song goes together … and then all of a sudden it’s almost an overnight thing and they’ll be like, ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got it,’” Sitton said.

“I love when I see their faces when something goes well and their faces light up,” Campo echoed. “They find their thing and they realize, ‘I’m part of something good,’ and it just permeates their entire personality and entire way of life, and you just see them blossom.”

“And not just the musical growth, but the emotional confidence,” Campo added. “The confidence, personality, growth, them finding their thing and being part of something important.”