Canyons District knows the invaluable impact our art teachers have on students. From music to a multitude of mediums, art gives a voice to those who can’t speak. It can provide a haven for struggling students and enhance the learning process. 

Two of Canyons’ superstar advocates for the arts have received recognition from the Utah State Office of Education — with support from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation — for their contribution to the arts in Canyons District. Arts Consortium Chair Sharee Jorgensen received the 2018 Sorenson Legacy Award for Excellence in Arts Administration, and Sandy Elementary Music Specialist Debbie Beninati received the 2018 Sorenson Legacy Award for Elementary Music Instruction. 
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These educators have been recognized for their willingness to “embrace the arts with excellence in their practice,” according to the Utah State Office of Education.

Jorgensen, CSD’s Fine Arts Specialist, got her start in the classroom teaching middle school and high school band, orchestra, guitar, choir, theater and general music. A decorated educator, she is constantly looking for ways to give back32116505_10155183372271580_7296134139994963968_o.jpg and now serves as Executive Director for the Utah Music Educators Association. “She goes above and beyond her job description, constantly asking what she can do to make our jobs easier,” says Corner Canyon theatre teacher Case Spaulding. “From creating the District costume warehouse to getting set donations….and bringing us treats on our birthdays, she truly cares about each individual person.” 

Beninati models the joys of music for children at Sandy Elementary as a Music Specialist, and when she’s not teaching, she’s advocating for the importance of making comprehensive elementary music education available to all public schools. For her advocacy, Beninati was named Elementary Music Teacher of the Year by the Utah Music Educators Association (UMEA) in 2017. Also, in 2013, the self-described music education “junkie” received the prestigious Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education Award for her work volunteering to head up a 61-student, before-school orchestra at Lone Peak Elementary.

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What if the Three Little Pigs were really the bad guys? What if the Fairy Godmother never showed up? Who would win in a dance battle, Cinderella or Snow White?

There’s nothing quite like a fairytale to capture the imagination of a child. So, an invitation to re-write one seemed the most natural place for Sherise Longhurst’s students to start when tasked with composing their own opera.

“The kids voted on the ideas they wanted to include in the opera, and then we wrote a plot outline. Then they split up into small groups, and every group wrote one of the scenes,” says Longhurst, the Beverly Taylor Sorenson choir instructor at Ridgecrest Elementary. “I put all the scenes together into one libretto, but I didn’t really edit their words at all. It’s all their voices.”

The finished product, a twisted Cinderella tale featuring a dance battle with Snow White, debuted to great acclaim — giggles and thunderous applause — at a school assembly and was featured on ABC4Utah's Midday show. The goal of the project, undertaken as part of Utah Opera’s outreach program “Music! Words! Opera!” which pairs students with local composers, is to expose students to the creative process and help them to see that opera is accessible and fun.

Students learn to work as a team on a big project with many moving parts, from crafting the story and pairing it with the right music and words to designing costumes and staging the production, says Paula Fowler, Utah Opera’s Director of Education and Community Outreach. “They’re learning life skills. I love it when I’m watching an opera and the students are waiting for each other; they’re waiting for their turn to do something. That’s a hard thing for kids to do.”

After the libretto was finished, Utah composer David Naylor visited the school a to collect melodies from the kids. He recorded all of their ideas and then wove them into a 16-minute score. “He turned the dance battle into a disco, which cracks me up every time I hear it,” Longhurst says. “It’s been so fun to watch the students create something on their own. I’m still amazed that this work we performed didn’t even exist at the start of the year.”


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Five of CSD’s talented high school instrumentalists have been selected to perform with the Utah Symphony at an All-Star Evening Concert on Tuesday, May 23.

The rare honor is granted to 57 students statewide. At the 7 p.m. event at Abravanel Hall, students will perform Dvorak’s Violin Concerto side-by-side with their professional counterparts. The performance will last two hours and admission starts at $12.

The following students were chosen based on their performance at the Utah Symphony Youth Orchestra Festival on March 13, 2017:

Sean Dulger, Horn, Corner Canyon
Laura Lee, Violin, Corner Canyon
Micah Clawson, Violin, Hillcrest
Dallin Davis, Cello, Hillcrest
Parker Kreiger, Clarinet, Hillcrest

When Mount Jordan middle was demolished in 2013, then-principal Dr. Molly Hart saved a stack of bricks in her office to pay homage to the 59-year-old school. After the school was rebuilt in 2015 she discovered it had an even greater treasure with a history as old as the original building: a Steinway and Sons 1954 Model B classic grand piano.

The piano was cracked, out of tune and badly in need of extensive repairs. After years of being exposed to the open air and shared community and school use, the Steinway looked as bad as it sounded and seemed as though the cost to fix the instrument would be significantly more than it was worth. All of the hammers needed to be replaced, as well as the dampers and strings, and the soundboard needed to be fixed. There was a fleeting suggestion that perhaps the piano should just be sold to save the cost of restoring it to its former glory — but Hart had different ideas.
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She took a look around the school’s newly completed, million-dollar auditorium built in partnership for the community with Sandy city, and she knew she couldn’t let it go. “I could just imagine performances taking place in that gorgeous auditorium,” Hart says. “That would be a really memorable experience and a life-changing experience for a middle school student to have a memory of playing a 1954 vintage Steinway B. You don’t have to be a piano player to know that.”

Hart worked with Canyons’ Arts Consortium Chair Sharee Jorgensen and the District's Purchasing Department to orchestrate the repair with an expert who restores pianos across the state. To pay for the project, Dr. Hart courted donations, used money from her furniture budget and received funds from Jorgensen's budget. The project cost a little more than $20,000, but the investment increased the value of the piano substantially.

“He (the restoration expert) took the piano, and between him and the person who refinished the outside, they turned it into a brand-new looking, beautiful piano that we could have never replaced for the money we spent on the restoration,” Jorgensen said.

Canyons District owns seven Steinway and Sons grand pianos, one Steinway and Sons upright piano, and 31 grand pianos by othcarryingpiano.jpger makers. The piano at Mount Jordan is the first to be completely restored, increasing its value substantially, Jorgensen says. A new Steinway and Sons Model B piano, which the company refers to as “the perfect piano” on its website, costs about $100,000. As the instruments age, their value typically increases.

“If you take care of it, it’s like an old violin,” Jorgensen says. “If you take care of it, it will eventually become priceless and last you a long time.”

To that end, the school purchased a special cover and locking case for the piano. It is used for special performances by students and members of the community, as Hart, who is now principal at Albion Middle School, had hoped.

“Mount Jordan serves a population of students that may or may not have an opportunity to play on a Steinway,” Hart said. “For the students that perform, that could be something that a pianist would have a memory of forever. I wanted kids to have that opportunity — and I wanted Canyons to have that opportunity.”



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Now this is music to our ears.

Eight Canyons District students have been selected to play side-by-side with members of the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall on Tuesday, May 17.

The 7 p.m. concert will feature some of the state’s best high school musicians. Cost to attend the event ranges from $6 to $18. The students are:

  • Alta:  Jacob Kilby, acoustic bass; Noah Valentine, violin
  • Hillcrest:  Mitchell Spencer, piano; Michael Zackrison, tuba; Adam Ford, violin
  • Corner Canyon:  Hannah McKay, viola; Kadyn Allen, trumpet
  • Jordan:  Nathan Jensen, French horn


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