A percussion pioneer
shaping the Great Falls musical landscape
Our favorite pixie-haired percussionist, Great Falls native Lauree Wenger, stands as a testament to the transformative power of music education and the enduring legacy of the Great Falls Symphony.
As we embark on our year-end fund drive to ensure the continuation of this cultural pillar, Executive Director Hillary Shepherd and Development Director Angela Costley share an inspiring conversation with Lauree, who has dedicated her life to teaching, performing, and investing in the future of our community through the world of music.
Lauree, you’ve graced our community with your talent as a percussionist since a young age. Could you take us back to the moment you first fell in love with percussion?
My passion for percussion ignited when I was just three years old. The spark came from a neighbor named Jack Crosofisso, who was a percussionist in the Great Falls Elks Drum and Bugle Corps. I was determined to follow in his footsteps, despite attempts by my family to steer me toward violin. Percussion was my calling, and I’ve never looked back.
Lauree at an October 2023 rehearsal.
Lauree knew she wanted to be a percussionist since she was three years old. By 7th grade she was in marching band.
Your impact on music education is profound. Could you share your journey as a music teacher and your experiences with students?
Bill Larson, my high school band director, truly instilled a love of music in me. I pursued a music education degree at Montana State University and upon returning to Great Falls, I was faced with a choice: teaching special education students or eighth-grade general music. My decision was clear, and I started teaching special needs kids. I ran the Great Expectations Band and taught valved brass instruments and percussion. We even performed at national and Northwest conventions during my tenure. That experience is where I really learned my teaching style and how to break down complex actions sequentially. Since then, teaching has always been my forte; I enjoy playing, but I find teaching to be more exhilarating.
My students bring out the best in me. I’ve had the honor of teaching award-winning students like Luke Banks, who recently won the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition last year, and I’ve had the honor of teaching students with learning and physical disabilities who excel in their own right. I’ve taught older adult students and really young kids. I’ve been retired from teaching with the Great Falls Public Schools for over six years now, but I still teach 36 students every week.
Your history with the Great Falls Symphony spans four decades. Can you tell us about your experiences with the orchestra and how it’s shaped your connection to the community?
I joined the Symphony as a junior in high school when Dennis Dell was my percussion teacher. I returned after graduating college in 1980, and I’ve been a steady part of the Symphony ever since. My journey in music and with the Symphony has been a joyful experience. It has allowed me to explore a wide range of music over the years. It has also made me more visible in the community; people often recognize me out in public as the Symphony’s percussionist.
You’ve had the privilege of performing with renowned soloists. Can you share some of memories?
Playing with Yo-Yo Ma was a highlight of my career. His professionalism and calm demeanor left a lasting impression. I also had the privilege of performing with Evelyn Glennie, a phenomenal percussionist who overcame hearing disabilities to create breathtaking music. These experiences have enriched my musical journey.
How do you view music education in Great Falls, and
why is it vital for our community?
Great Falls has a long history of exceptional music education. Graduates often return to the community, thanks to the positive experiences they had in our local music programs. It’s important to have high-quality music education and performance opportunities for kids, and it contributes to the vibrant culture of our city. Maintaining music education is essential, and I can’t praise the Great Falls Public Schools Music Department enough for their exceptional work.
How does the Great Falls Symphony contribute to
making our community better?
The Symphony provides a platform for people to experience excellent music, enriching our cultural landscape. While Great Falls boasts a wealth of art and music, the Symphony offers an extra dimension, another outlet for the community. The beauty of live music is its authenticity, and being a part of the Symphony has allowed me to share incredible experiences with both fellow musicians and former students.
What are your thoughts on the Youth Orchestra Music Program?
I think it’s great! I really like the chamber ensemble part of it. I’ve got two eighth graders and a sixth grader in it. This program provides a wonderful opportunity for students. I would have loved this opportunity during my high school years and I believe the program will grow in a significant way as students and parents witness the program’s benefits.
Meredith, Ben, and Lauree at a recent rehearsal.
Fall Colors Youth Orchestra concert, November 13, 2022
Lauree performs in our October 2023 “GameTrax” concert with former students Jake Henneford, Ben McEwen,and Meredith Ludford. Principal timpanist Dennis Dell was Lauree’s percussion teacher in high school.
Lauree working with Youth Orchestra students.
Lauree Wenger’s dedication to music education, her passion for percussion, and her enduring connection to the Great Falls Symphony exemplify the transformative power of music in our lives.
Your gifts to the Symphony are an investment in the future of our community. Your support will continue to enrich the lives of our youth and ensure the vibrancy of the Great Falls cultural landscape.
Join us in this harmonious journey, and let’s shape a brighter future through music.