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Chemeketa Music Program makes long awaited return

By Saul Rodriguez

Chemeketa’s music program is back this year, and is hopefully staying for good.

Kerry Burtis and fellow lovers of music have been arduously working for three years to finally have a comprehensive music program for students here at the college. “[The music program] was barely ever here – there is no return. It’s finally starting,” Burtis said. “Before it was just a lesson here [and] a choir there.”

Burtis, who is the first ever full-time music director in the 47-year history of the college, was very persistent to develop a fully robust program. “When I started here, there was just one ensemble and we have added one each year,” he said. “We have now four performing ensembles.”

Burtis also teaches general education music courses such as music theory and music appreciation where he uses his 12 years of experience teaching at North Salem High School to teach choir and band here at Chemeketa.

Burtis said that people have been receptive and glad that the program is up and running.

According to Burtis, students should expect a broader variety in the music courses being offered.

“…We are still offering general education music classes, but have now added band, orchestra, and lessons for instruments including flute, violin, piano…the works. We are trying to become a comprehensive program,” he said.

Community is a big part of the music program.

“We are working with the Salem-Keizer school district, who have fantastic music programs, to let students know there is a place to continue your music education after high school,” Burtis said. “We’re trying to build a bridge between Salem-Keizer community and Chemeketa any way we can.”

You can see this approach in the variety of students in the music courses. From music majors to retired music enthusiasts to students who just want to have a place to make and learn about music, anyone is welcome. “Just have an interest in music” is the only prerequisite that Burtis asks of students wanting to take these courses.

Although things seem hopeful for the music program, it’s not without obstacles.

“Our biggest obstacle is space,” Burtis said. “Everyone has a building except us. We teach wherever we can.” He said that his “ultimate vision is to have a building for music” because with the courses being taught all over campus and at West Salem High School, it’s proving difficult for some students to travel to attend class.

But Kerry Burtis is enthusiastic and optimistic about the program. As for how students can help, Burtis said to “be aware and help spread the word that music is alive and well in Chemeketa.”