George Weber is the long-time music teacher at Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS). This conversation was edited for length.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born in Denver and spent most of my early childhood there. When I graduated from high school, I was playing music in bands and decided not to go to college. I went on the road, traveling around the western United States playing music. At the end of about 10 years of doing that, I hit a ceiling of income and comfort with what I was doing and decided to go back to school. I studied music in Boulder at the University of Colorado. I was able to play a lot of music there, mostly jazz, and ended up playing with Pete Wernick [of Hot Rize fame], who is a bluegrass banjo player. We didn’t really do bluegrass, but we did instrumental music based on banjo, vibraphone, clarinet, bass and drums. I did that for quite a while.
Q: How did you end up in Carbondale?
A: Since I was about 16, I’d been coming up to the Roaring Fork Valley. I was introduced to the valley by working on a ranch up above Snowmass. So I was familiar with the valley and had played concerts at Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS), and had a strong interest in the school and the people that worked here. I was working in Boulder when the person I knew who taught music up here said they were retiring. I said “Well, may I send my resume to you and apply for the job?” I did that, made my move to the valley, and I’ve lived here since 1996 teaching at CRMS.
Q: Would you tell me more about your world as a teacher?
A: I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in percussion performance and symphonic literature. I felt pretty comfortable teaching classical music as well, or band music. So when the kids came to class, I literally asked them what they wanted to do because it was a small number of kids, because I was a new teacher just developing a program. The program before was just in the evenings or when kids wanted special help but there wasn’t actually a music program at CRMS. Most of [the students] wanted to play guitar so we started studying guitar. And that just kept developing and building into more and bigger classes. So the program here has been pretty contemporary. We’ve been studying current music, pop music. But we’ve also done some classical music, bluegrass music, folk music, we’ve done punk music. I let the kids decide what they want to learn and play and I let them decide what instruments they want to learn how to play. So my music classes are very, very much student driven.
Q: What motivates you as a teacher?
A: What keeps me going is kids’ enjoyment of learning. The reason I’m still here and the primary reason I continue teaching is because I really enjoy experiencing students learning something new. They just get so excited. So, being around kids, their vitality, their energy, just enlivens me tremendously. I enjoy teaching and watching kids learn.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?
A: I love the outdoors. One of the really good parts about working in a school like [CRMS] is I’ve been fortunate to be trained in wilderness backpacking and I’ve also been trained to lead river trips. I don’t get to do as much of that as I want because the school is a busy place, but I have done all those things while I’ve been here. So my passion, when I’m not in the classroom is definitely to get outdoors. My simplest way to do that is I walk my dogs a couple of times a day. In the summer I spend a lot more time hiking and spend a lot of time outdoors. I still spend a lot of time playing music for myself, recording, writing songs and arranging music.
Q: What is your primary instrument these days?
A: The instrument I play the best is the vibraphone. But it’s the instrument I teach the least because kids have such a strong interest in guitar, piano, voice and drums. So, my primary instrument in the classroom ends up being guitar. The guitar is always with me, because it’s such a great teaching tool and a great way to accompany kids no matter what instrument they’re playing.
Favorite hike: Anything above 10,000 feet near Crested Butte.
Favorite reading: Books my students might read, memoirs, biographies of musicians, National Geographic, the news.
Favorite music: That’s tough. I have a really broad appreciation of many types of music. Some favorites are country music, jazz, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix.