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Laughlin music teacher believes in pushing students hard

March 18, 2019

LAUGHLIN — Beth Duerden doesn’t claim to be the world’s best pianist.

“I had to learn all the instruments, in order to teach them,” the expert clarinetist said.

Duerden now teaches music, band and theater at Laughlin Junior/Senior High School.

Her duties range from helping fourth-graders get started in music to working with high-school students on sharpening their skills.

Her 40 years as an educator in public and private schools have seen her teaching sixth grade, history, middle-school math and sixth-grade science — always alongside music.

She said she has known since she was 8 that she wanted to be a musician.

Becoming a teacher, Duerden said, came to her while she was in college.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I tell people it beats working for a living.”

She describes her two classrooms as the toy shop of the campus, where students get to work with such fun items as glockenspiels, Rototoms and contrabass xylophones.

However, Duerden said, the students aren’t just playing. She said she wants to see the students grow.

Duerden’s high school band is working on a piece usually performed by college students. She said she hopes they learn it well enough to include it in a spring concert.

“They’re constantly in a state of learning,” Duerden said. “I will push them until they stop. If they’re capable of doing more, I will put more in front of them.”

She said that a professor at Indiana University told her she should tell her students that she expects 200 percent out of them, and see what they produce.

“I don’t understand limits,” Duerden said. “Why tell them they’re not capable? Tell them they CAN do it, and see what happens.”

LHS juniors Kinoa Keahilihau and Julia Thomas said that Duerden’s willingness to push students makes her a good teacher.

“She’s really good at being strict,” said Thomas, who plays flute and piccolo. “If she wasn’t so picky with everything, we wouldn’t be getting better.”

Keahilihau, a baritone saxophonist, said that Duerden’s hard work encourages the students to work hard. He said he also appreciates how she works with all students.

“(The high school band is) her main priority,” he said. “But she still takes time to work with the different groups that all need help.”

Fifth-grader Nathan Campbell and sixth-grader Hunter Jones said Duerden’s sense of humor and quickness help to make learning from her easy.

Sixth-grade trombone student Philip Alexander said it’s nice to be in Duerden’s general music class.

“I’m really lucky to be in her class,” he said. “She’s really smart and knows almost everything about music.”

Duerden’s virtuosity has impressed listeners far from Laughlin. She was a member of the IU pep band for four years. She also played with the UNLV Community Concert Band, performing as far away as Vienna and Budapest, Hungary.

As a member of Las Vegas-based The Desert Winds, Duerden was invited to perform at the Midwest Conference, a major convention for band and orchestra directors.

Upcoming LJSHS student performances include a mid-May showcase that will feature the fourth- and fifth-grade choir and all four of the school’s bands — sixth-grade beginning band, middle-school intermediate band, and high school advanced band plus the debut of the Laughlin Jazz Band, plus the Ballet Folklorico, led by fifth-grade teacher Grecia Galaviz.

“There will be some surprises in there,” Duerden said.

The theater class will put on a comedic murder mystery in a dinner theater production in about a month, and Duerden is hoping to have it perform “Bottle of Joy” for kindergartners at Bennett Elementary School.

Theater students also will take a serious turn, performing Laura Lundgren Smith’s Holocaust drama “Dark Road.”

The high school band and theater groups are raising money to attend instructional workshops in May at Disneyland.

Duerden said she likes that LJSHS gives her the freedom to be as creative as she likes. She also said the school has “a great group of kids.”

She said changes in education during her career include a gradual shift of more responsibility from the students to the teachers and fewer students recognizing a behavioral line that’s not to be crossed.

Still, she said her favorite sound is “oh!”

“That means the light bulb is on, and now you get it,” Duerden said.

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