● By Sandie Tillery
story: Sandie Tillery photo: Kara Stewart
CULTURE OF CREATIVITY GROWING IN COTTONWOOD
The annual Cottonwood rodeo parade in April passed by a cheering throng while foot-stomping music strummed by pint-sized fiddlers accompanied the hootin’ and hollerin’ from the crowd. The old stagecoach stopover still enjoys the feel of an Old West town with raised walkways on either side of a wide main street. No one should be fooled, though. Along with the rich western culture permeating the area, something new has begun to rumble through town.
Keys & Strings Studio opened its doors at the corner of Brush and Front streets three years ago, inviting little fiddlers to pursue their dreams and now to expand their repertoire into classical violin. With a full menu of opportunities, offering private and group instruction in an intimate setting, Keys & Strings Studio has attracted top-notch professional instructors, many home-grown, who share director Martha Boyle’s vision to create a performing arts center in downtown Cottonwood. Adults have joined the mixed choir, exploring a full range of vocal instruction, and toe tappers of various sizes are trying out ballet, jazz and modern dance. Brass and woodwind instruments may be added to the instruction list based on demand, along with the current piano, fiddle, violin and guitar schedule.
Boyle grew up fiddling, performing with family, and competing in the national “Old Time Fiddlers” contest. She and husband Jeff, an elementary school teacher, opened the studio so Martha wouldn’t have to teach young fiddle students out of their home. They wanted to share space with other local music instructors initially to help with expenses. Kimberley Brumbaugh, whose guitar “is like an old friend,” joined Boyle early on, and not too long after, Derrick Pack added his piano skills to the studio. Between 60 and 100 students at any given time are enrolled in a wide range of classes and private instruction at Keys & Strings Studio. Preschoolers interact with Lyra Josefsson, laughing and learning in their Kindermusik class. Adrienne Jacoby directs the Cottonwood Community Youth and Adult Choirs. Keys & Strings Youth Theater, directed by Becky Browning, performed “Honk” this past spring to a packed audience. Students travel from Red Bluff, Happy Valley, Redding and Palo Cedro to attend classes at Keys & Strings Studio. The first buds of the Boyles’ dream have begun to unfold.
This summer, day camps and workshops offered students an in-depth taste of the fine arts. Film production, graphic design and visual arts classes were offered, along with ballroom and modern dance and the full range of instrumental, vocal and theater arts. “I am really excited for kids to glean and learn from great instructors,” says Boyle, whose three young daughters are just beginning to grow in their own enjoyment of music under Jacoby’s Early Childhood Violin tutelage.
More and more girls want to play guitar like their idols Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, comments Boyle. With media coverage and reality TV celebrating young artists that include tenor Josh Groban, recent American Idol Lee DeWyze, dancing sensations from So You Think You Can Dance and the popularity of Internet coverage of anyone who wants exposure on YouTube and other sites, a resurgence of interest in self-expression through the arts seems to be motivating more students of all ages to seek instruction.
Fiddlers help define the heritage of country music as they scrape their bows, creating the soulful sounds of bluegrass and the knee-slapping fun of authentic country music, but they share the stage in Cottonwood now with classical violin virtuosos and pianists, jazz vocalists, ballerinas and thespians. Boyle’s vision includes a nonprofit arm, Cottonwood Fine Arts Foundation, from which she hopes to fund scholarships and free community events. It is in the planning stages.