Birch Creek Jazz Quartet Visits Door County Schools

Nearly 300 Door County students from choir and band programs at Southern Door, Sturgeon Bay, Sevastopol and Gibraltar schools took part in Birch Creek’s Artists in the Schools program on Feb. 15. It began in 2002 as a way for Birch Creek and its faculty to give back to the community, and now nationally acclaimed faculty return to the county each year to share their talent and experience with public-school music students.

This year, Katie Ernst, a member of the Birch Creek jazz faculty, played bass and sang vocals with her jazz quartet of saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi, pianist Tom Vaitsas and drummer Neil Hemphill. All hail from Chicago and are well known in the world-class Chicago jazz scene.

At each school, the quartet mixed their performances with talks about their journeys to becoming professional musicians. Students engaged with them between songs, asking questions about their prospects for careers in music and requesting favorite songs for the quartet to play.

The grand tour began with a performance for the Sevastopol High School Choir, hosted by music teacher Shannon Sheehan. The jazz quartet then stopped in Fish Creek to share their swing and Great American Songbook tunes with more than 130 Gibraltar middle and high school band students and their teacher, Charlie Eckhardt.

Ernst then loaded her bass into her car for the next stop at Sturgeon Bay High School. Band director Heidi Hintz and choir director Leslie Hill assembled more than 120 students from the school’s concert choir, concert band, wind ensemble and the seventh-and-eighth-grade choir to spend nearly 45 minutes listening to jazz songs and stories from the musicians.

The afternoon closed with a visit to Southern Door High School, where Naomi Files, band and jazz-band director, gathered 30 high school students to hear big-band jazz hits such as George and Ira Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” and “I Wished on a Moon,” with lyrics written by Ernst’s favorite poet, Dorothy Parker.

Birch Creek’s Artists in the Schools program provides a memorable interaction between professional musicians and young students who share a passion for music. “Thank you so much for this opportunity,” posted Sevastopol instrumental music teacher Tanya Hasenjager.

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