Working with the rival
Music takes former band star to unexpected places
Music took one talented Hayden High School graduate all over the country — and then brought her right back home to the Yampa Valley to pass on her mentor’s legacy.
Kelli Turnipseed, 23, credits former Hayden band teacher Bill Grimes with developing her musical skills, helping her to realize “there is more to life than the Yampa Valley,” and helping her open doors to that wider world.
But after traveling all over the country in high school and college, thanks to her music, something happened: She realized she had something to give to the valley she came from.
Turnipseed is now the band director at Soroco High School, her alma mater’s cross country rival. Some of her students act stunned when they learn she graduated from Hayden, she said, as if she might be involved in some sort of football espionage reconnaissance mission.
“I never would have expected to come back to the valley,” she explained. “Fate just had it in for me.”
She loves where fate has brought her. At first, she wanted to teach at a large school, but Turnipseed said she enjoys the more personal atmosphere Soroco provides. Hayden Band Director Tim Watt agrees that in the teaching sense, bigger is not better.
Fewer students per teacher means more personalized attention. It’s how Grimes, the former Hayden band director, was able to change Turnipseed’s life.
“If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it through school,” she said. “He saw something in me and brought out the best in me. He’s my hero.”
Grimes’ teaching also kept the worst away, she said. Staying involved with practice and a work study program kept her away from drugs and other negative influences, Turnipseed said.
During middle school and high school, Turnipseed spent hours in the band room at the high school practicing the euphonium — a small tubalike instrument.
Turnipseed became interested in the rather obscure euphonium as a fifth-grader living in Carbondale when a baby sitter brought her euphonium to the house.
“Go ahead, blow on it. See if you can make a noise,” Turnipseed recalled her baby sitter saying. The woman taught her to play a B-flat scale.
“I was hooked from then on,” Turnipseed said.
School band auditions were the next week. Most of the students were picking up instruments for the first time, choosing what they thought was the “coolest.”
Turnipseed was elated to see a euphonium. She went over to it, picked it up and immediately played the B-flat scale her baby sitter had taught her.
“I thought, ‘Oh I’m cool,'” she said. “Everybody else thought I was a prodigy, a real child genius.”
Turnipseed was the only young euphonium player in the school district. She soon found herself riding in the back of the bus as the lone fifth-grader in the eighth-grade honor band. Just before becoming an eighth-grader, she moved to Hayden, where Grimes noticed her talent.
By the time Turnipseed was a sophomore, Grimes bought an expensive new euphonium for the school and his young star.
“He knew from the beginning what I was going to accomplish,” Turnipseed said. “He knew I could go places.”
She played throughout high school in a variety of ensembles, winning multiple awards and accolades in competitions all over Colorado. Getting away from Hayden, even for a couple of days, was exciting, she said.
When she could not afford to take a trip from Hayden to Orlando, Fla., and the Bahamas — her first “big trip” ever — Grimes found a way to get her there. Through a work-study program, Turnipseed earned $1,500 during four years in high school — just enough for the trip.
After graduating, Turnipseed traveled to Alamosa to attend Adams State College. There, she got more involved in writing music and playing the trombone, participating in jazz ensembles and bands, including a few improvisational performances with her boyfriend’s rock ‘n’ roll band.
In college, music took Turnipseed all over the United States, while she held three jobs and managed her classwork. Ultimately, though, music brought her home to the Yampa Valley.
Back home, she wants to pass on to her Soroco students what she has learned.
About 50 students participate in the Soroco school band, which played its first concert of the year Tuesday night in Oak Creek. She also is trying to organize a pep band for the basketball team’s home games.
A pep band of sorts already has been organized by some students, appearing at football and volleyball games this year. Several students have begun playing plastic buckets, bringing positive and negative remarks from the community.
“Who cares if they’re $5 buckets,” Turnipseed said. “They don’t need $500 bass drums. They can bang on these buckets as hard as they want. They’re having fun, and that’s all that matters.”
Turnipseed said the work she has taken on at Soroco sometimes is overwhelming. She is the school’s fifth band director in four years, but she knows the 10- to 15-hour days are worth it.
“It’s all about the students — to see them, to know that they walk out with something they didn’t have when they walked in — it’s an incredible feeling.”
She credits Grimes and her father, Digger Turnipseed, for getting her to her dream job.
She still hangs on to the euphonium originally bought by Grimes for the Hayden School District. Although she won a new euphonium at a high school competition in Florida, she said the one Grimes purchased for her holds a special place in her heart. They traded her Florida prize for his school purchase so that she could keep the one with sentimental value. Now, the Grimes euphonium sits in the Soroco band room, but purely for show, not for students to play.
“No, no, no,” Turnipseed said firmly. “They can’t touch that euphonium.”
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