Community Concert Enrichment Program
By Jon Lewis
Life ExperienceSeptember 2014
By Jon Lewis
Photo: Richard Douse
Members of the Shasta Community Concert Association were not about to let Redding’s small-town status prevent it from presenting big-name talent, and the bargain-conscious nonprofit has been getting the biggest performing-arts bang for its buck for 77 years and counting.
For the past 14 years, the group has been responsible for another bargain: providing fine-arts enrichment to North State schools, completely free of charge.
The concert association, which presents its shows at the Cascade Theatre, began bringing students into the mix in 2000, which coincided with the addition of Jane Wittmann and her husband, Will, to the board of directors.
“We made this pledge to bring music to kids in the community and that’s when we started the Fine Arts Enrichment program. We’ve served more than 30,000 kids since we started in 2000,” Jane Wittmann says.
“Our board got really involved in it. Originally we didn’t do it for every artist since they didn’t all do outreach, but over the years we started to only hire artists that offer outreach,” Wittmann recalls. “The artists enjoy doing it … they enjoy those morning shows. It seems like to a person, the artists always say what a well behaved audience the kids were.”
As retired teachers, Dave and Judy Bush quickly saw the benefits of the Fine Arts Enrichment program and they eagerly assumed responsibility for promoting it to local schools. They’re at their happiest helping to introduce kids from small outposts—Weed, Dunsmuir, Igo, Ono, Platina and others—to live performances by touring artists.
For many, it’s their first brush with a live concert and their first look at the historic Cascade Theatre. “We just really see such a value,” Dave Bush says of the morning performances for grade-school students. “And the performers are very encouraging to students, telling them to follow their dreams and stick with school.”
Judy Bush says it’s a treat to watch the interaction between the students and performers. The artists are good about mixing in conversation with their performances, she says. “They tell the kids about their own music backgrounds, when did they start playing instruments, when did they start singing, when did they first feel comfortable on stage.”
It can be just as illuminating for the visiting artist. A good example was provided last year by Jane L. Powell, an old-school powerhouse rhythm and blues singer. “We previewed her and really liked this lady, but she had never done one of the student programs. Well, her husband talked her into it, so she came off the stage and was going around the audience and giving these kids hugs,” Dave Bush recalls.
Powell then brought about a dozen kids up on to the stage for an impromptu lesson in jazz improvisation and scat singing, and then used her pint-sized choir as backup singers for her rendition of Otis Redding’s “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay.”
“She was a huge hit with the kids and she just loved the experience,” Wittmann says.
Just as Shasta Live! (the stage name for the association’s concert series) offers a diverse mix of performers for adults, it also exposes children to new kinds of music, Judy Bush says. “I know with a couple of kids I spoke to after one of the performances, they heard a very classical group of players on violin, piano and cello, and the kids were saying how much they liked classical music. I was just amazed. Classical is totally out of the realm of what these kids would be listening to.”
Teachers are as appreciative as the students, she says. “Teachers are thrilled. They get so excited. They send us emails about how pleased they are with the morning programs, the way the artists talked to the kids and the excitement. The kids are back to school by noon, and by 3 o’clock we’re getting emails thanking us.”
For cash-strapped schools that have had to cut back or eliminate music programs, the Cascade concerts are a godsend. “One of the teachers came up and thanked us and said ‘You are our fine arts program at this point. You’re it,’” Dave Bush says.
Participation in the Fine Arts Enrichment program is free, but schools must provide their own transportation. The association estimates the program’s cost at $8,000, including artist fees and theater rental. About $5,000 is provided by Friends of Shasta Live, the association’s patronage program, and the remainder is covered by grants and season subscriptions.
“I want to give a big shout out to US Bank, which has been a big help over the years, the Redding Rancheria Community Fund from time to time, the Sierra Pacific Foundation recently and patrons,” says Wittmann. “That support has made a big difference.”
The 2014-15 Shasta Live! season begins Oct. 3 with the violin and guitar duo of Alex DePue and Miguel De Hoyos; Al Simmons presents a one-man variety act on Nov. 5; William Florian features music of the 1960s on Jan. 30; and Steve Lippie pays a tribute to the Chairman of the Board with “Simply Sinatra” on April 30.