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Braving the elements for music

Kurt Hildebrand

Nearly three-dozen elementary school music teachers braved Friday’s snowstorm to gather at the Brewery Arts Center to share ideas. They met through Saturday, singing, playing instruments and listening to music and thoughts about teaching music to children.

The clinic was a small part of the Nevada Music Educators Association All-State Conference held for the first time in Carson City, but near and dear to Carson music teachers Sandra Irvin and Mary Law.

Mary hails from Bismarck, N.D., and has taught at Seeliger Elementary School for 12 years. Bordewich-Bray Elementary School teacher Sandra has worked in Carson City for 13 years.

Sandra hails from Idaho and says she once cleaned Henry Mancini’s toilets while waiting for her first school job to start.

“He was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper and I’m so sorry I never walked up to him and told him how much I’d enjoyed his music,” she said.

Several of the attendees were in from Reno, despite the weather and Washoe County’s decision not to pay them to attend the conference.

“This is a very good turn-out,” Mary said. “We’ve never had an elementary conference in Carson City before. The high school performance groups tend to get the attention. It’s hard to get the focus down to the elementary school level.”

The conference was a success thanks to help from Popplers Music Publishing of Grand Forks North Dakota and Hal Leonard Publishing Corp., the women said.

Both Seeliger and Bordewich Bray’s choirs performed on Saturday.

I knew something was up on Wednesday when I saw teenagers toting musical instruments all over town. Carson City played host to the Nevada Music Educators Association All-State Music Conference this week. These are the competitions for band, choir, jazz band and orchestras. Usually, the conference rotates between Reno, Elko and Las Vegas. But because Reno’s meeting space was too pricey for a nonprofit organization, they decided to hold the competition in Carson for the first and hopefully not the last time.

Stanford computer professor Eric Roberts stopped in Carson City this week to visit his parents Jim and Anne Roberts. Eric, a graduate of Carson High School and Harvard, was on his way back to California from Oxford, where he has been teaching.

I wrote about Eric in March when he was honored by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education.

I got a chance to talk to Mary McNeill, the soprano who stars as famed 19th century singer Emma Nevada.

Mary is a sixth-generation Nevadan, whose forebears arrived in the state about the same time as Emma.

Her great, great, great-grandfather was Richard Johnson who came west in 1849 during the California Gold Rush and ended up settling in Fallon, according Mary’s aunt and the family historian, Lena Covello. Mary’s grandmother, Mary Covello-Keifer raised seven children on her own.

Mary attended Sparks High School, where she performed with the “Skyfire,” show choir, under the direction of Naunie Gardner. She graduated in 1988.

Mary performs with the Sparks Little Theater, working with her aunt Lena who is the theater’s art director. Mary started performing as Emma Nevada last Mother’s Day, though she has been practicing for nearly three years.

The 33-year-old Sparks mother of two works for Stetson-Beemer Insurance, attends nursing school and likes to occasionally sing country.

The real Emma Nevada is Austin’s most renowned resident, having moved to the central Nevada mining camp in 1864 at the tender age of 5. Emma toured Europe and composers wrote music for her in the last decades of the 19th century. Her 1940 death in England was noted in the New York Times.

Kurt Hildebrand survived to adulthood despite his attempts as a child to overcome tone deafness with a trumpet and a cello. Reach him at 887-2430, ext. 402 or e-mail him at kurt@tahoe.com