A musical duet takes a final bow

Valley teachers Phil and Wendy Hartman are about to put their batons to rest.

broberts@idahostatesman.comMay 15, 2014 

  • Hartman celebrations

    Wendy Hartman will be honored at an alumni concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, at Boise High School auditorium, 1010 W. Washington St., Boise. A reception will follow.

    Phil Hartman will be honored at an alumni concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 24, at the Centennial High School Performing Arts Center, 12400 W. McMillan Road, Boise.

    Both celebrations are open to the public, and former students and their families are encouraged to attend.

Phil Hartman spent an afternoon earlier this week guiding a handful of Centennial High School students in the finer points of directing a marching band.

Feet together, he told them. Don't slouch when you are done.

A few hours later, over at Boise High School, Hartman's wife, Wendy, led the orchestra through a piece it has been practicing, guiding the members with comments and direction.

The two music teachers are retiring after this school year. They've contributed nearly 70 years of musical training to thousands of students.

It's hard to say who will miss them more - the students or the parents who have watched their children grow under the Hartmans' musical nurturing.

"He gave them a place to feel safe in high school, where they were welcome and they were important," said Beth Harper, who had four children in Phil Hartman's band.

"I gained a work ethic," said Ashley Bryant, a student who has played viola under Wendy Hartman's direction since she was at North Junior High, where Hartman still teaches orchestra.

For the Hartmans, retirement is bittersweet. They want to spend more time with their grandchildren and each other.

But leaving the schoolkids is tough.

Phil Hartman, who has been the band director at Centennial since it opened in 1987, steeled himself as he prepared to go before his students earlier this year to tell them about his decision, "only to turn into an emotional wreck 30 seconds into it," he said.

FINAL SHOWS

The Hartmans' 31-year marriage was shaped by their passion for music.

They've maintained a nearly insane schedule of rehearsals, concerts and festival competitions since starting their careers after graduating from Boise State University, she in 1979 and he in 1981.

Both Hartmans will give their final official school concerts Thursday. "I know we are both really sad that we can't see each other's last concerts," Wendy Hartman said.

But they have never been far from each other or from music.

In their early years, they would teach music all day and talk about it "nonstop" at home, Wendy Hartman said. "On Friday, I remember, we would both come home and lay down on a couch and fall asleep, and wake up in time to go to bed," she said.

Before concert competitions they would score each other's performances and discuss the best music to perform.

That commitment has paid off. Phil Hartman leads five bands. The number of students each year has grown from 90 when Centennial opened to 130 today.

For 11 straight years beginning in the early 1990s, his marching band took top honors in the District III Marching Band Festival in Southwest Idaho.

Wendy Hartman started a chamber orchestra at North Junior High. She added one at Boise High after she took on that program in 1993. The high school orchestra had 48 students when she arrived and has 85 today. Over the years, the orchestra has traveled to festivals in Canada and workshops in Austria, and gone on musical tours of Europe, performing in Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Wendy Hartman talked about a student who in middle school was extremely shy about playing in public. Hartman worked with her through lunch hours, hoping to build her confidence. She arranged for the girl to get some additional lessons. When she performed at a district festival this year, she received a superior rating.

"It is so rewarding to work with young people like her, who prove that working hard and having the right attitude can overcome so many difficulties," she said.

A LIST OF REASONS

A former student of Phil Hartman's said she owes her career in music education to her former band leader.

Sara Frazier, now a middle school band director in Huntsville, Ala., played flute in Hartman's band. She was so impressed by him, she decided to become a music teacher. After graduating from college, she became aware of a job opening at Lowell Scott Middle School in Meridian, but she was afraid to take it. "I was afraid I would ruin these kids musically," she said, and they would end up in the program run by her mentor.

She was working as a sales clerk when Phil Hartman walked up to her unannounced one afternoon. He was carrying a note pad with 50 reasons why she should take the job.

"I thought if I just casually call her and say here are the reasons why ... she is not going to take it seriously enough," he said.

She just needed a little convincing, he said.

At the top of Hartman's list: He and Frazier would be working together in preparing band students.

She tried for the position. "I fell in love with that job in about 30 seconds," she said. She worked at Lowell Scott for eight years, until her husband's job required them to move.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

Roberts' daughter Heather was in Wendy Hartman's orchestra at Boise High School during the mid-1990s.

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