Friday August 16, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- For 40 years, music teacher Jim Kurty taught at the three elementary schools, Green Street, Oak Grove and Academy.

He will continue performing and teaching children, even after retiring this year.

"There's not a lot of moss growing underneath my feet," said Kurty. "I just won't be at school."

During the past week, he held a band camp at the Open Music Collective at the Cotton Mill. The mornings included big band rehearsals then a lunch break. In the afternoons, there would be jazz band sessions.

Through establishing an agreement with collective director, Jamie McDonald, Kurty was able to create his own summer programming for children and adults alike.

Kurty also plans to continue performing at various local venues, such as the Marina, the Thompson House and the Gathering Place. His main instruments include clarinet, saxophone and flute.

When former music teacher Bruce Corwin left the Brattleboro school system in the 1970s, Kurty took his place. However, the two kept correspondence as Corwin became a guidance counselor in Dover at the time.

"I moved here because Massachusetts wasn't hiring inexperienced teachers and Bruce Corwin helped me out in those beginning years," said Kurty. "I'm forever grateful that he decided to be a guidance counselor."

Corwin told the Reformer that Kurty had a great way with kids and they loved him.

"Jim has a real gift with kids," said Corwin.


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"When he wanted his band to line up straight on the street, instead of saying, ‘Line up,' he'd say to the kids, ‘Look at the kid in front of them for cooties and it worked like a charm. He was full of stuff like that."

After working in various local towns, Corwin retired. He would then meet up with Kurty and his students every Tuesday morning during the school year. They formed impromptu bands for the children to sing with.

Corwin said this type of involvement helped to craft some good friendships.

"I have nothing but respect for Jim. He deserves all the praise he gets," Corwin added. "He's a really great teacher."

When music teacher Andy Davis began teaching in the Windham Southeast school district as an elementary school music teacher in the mid 1980s, he would bump into Kurty at least a couple times a week. They would collaborate on concerts throughout the year.

Davis said Kurty would publish his annual schedule so everyone would know what he had in store.

"You had to admire his ambition for the kids. Just to keep them in a constant flow of activities to prepare for parades, nursing homes and circuses," Davis said. "He didn't do the minimum."

As teachers, Kurty was a bit more tolerant of certain behaviors. For example, Davis would not allows any hats to be worn in class, while Kurty didn't view it as a problem.

Kurty would say that as long as a child had an instrument in hand, that child could wear a hat in his class.

"He tolerated so much and viewed it as a victory. Whether the kid was special needs or destined to be valedictorian, it didn't matter to Jim. If they came to a session and had an instrument in their hands, he was going to teach them. He was very accepting of kids," said Davis.

One day, Kurty told him that he attempted to give kids "real musical experiences." These included visits to the Thompson House, performances during Diversity Day and organizing multiple concerts each year.

Jim Kurty conducts 4th-7th grade musicians at the Open Music Collective band camp at Cotton Mill Hill in Brattleboro.(Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Jim Kurty conducts 4th-7th grade musicians at the Open Music Collective band camp at Cotton Mill Hill in Brattleboro. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

For his last official performance with the school system, Kurty had all three schools down at the Harmony parking lot playing a concert. Musicians gathered from the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. They all had prepared at separate rehearsals.

"They showed up and bingo. They could all play together," said Davis, who remembers a tune that Kurty was playing during the last couple years called ‘My Bucket's Got a Hole In It.'

The song was an old jazz tune. Kurty would begin his concerts by bringing out a bucket that had a hole in it. Instead of using a baton to conduct the children, he would use the bucket.

"Jim did something really unique," said Davis. "He knit together all three elementary schools in a way that was really special. As a parent and teacher, I think that was an amazing thing he did for our schools. Jim was all about getting all three schools to represent Brattleboro."

Brattleboro Area Middle School teacher Tom Nasiatka said Kurty was extremely masterful at communicating with the kids, especially the younger ones. He would prepare the students for middle school by working intensively with them during fourth, fifth and sixth grade, and he would remain interested in their progress after elementary school.

"He's such a unique teacher and unique individual," Nasiatka said. "He cares and gives so much concern to the kids and community at large."

For now, Kurty is focusing on spending time with his best friend, his wife. He's also setting up a schedule for performances.

"I'm basically moving into a new arena," he said. "That's the hard part. I'm not sure where I want to put my emphasis on. Right now, it's on playing my instruments and singing and having a good time."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.