Simon Estes reflects on education

Cj Eilers

Simon Estes, international opera star and ISU professor, could easily have retired, having nearly 50 years of performing experience under his belt. Passing on that experience, however, is important to him.

“I was and am eager to share my experiences,” Estes said. “What I have learned from other professionals, conductors, stage directors, orchestras, vocal technique, coaching languages, et cetera.”

Fifteen years ago, Estes was invited by then-ISU President Martin Jischke to teach at the university, a job that the operatic bass-baritone describes as “an honor.”

“Iowa State has such a wonderful faculty here and I consider it an honor and privilege to be a professor here and to work with this fine faculty and the students who go here,” Estes said.

Estes gives voice lessons while he is in residence here, helping students to achieve their best vocally, which he believes should start to come out in college.

“We have to let grade-school children sing what they are comfortable with,” Estes said. “I don’t [think] there should be too much academic concentration until they come to college. They need to find out what kind of music they want to sing first.”

What troubles him is the fact that schools across the nation are cutting or closing their music programs. Research done by the National Association of Music Merchants shows that the percentage of kids with access to music has declined 50 percent in the past five years. Yet, a survey from Gallup shows that 95 percent of Americans believe music is key to a good education system.

“Art is what people need in life,” Estes said. “It’s a tragedy that many schools are reducing their music programs.”

No Child Left Behind, a controversial bill created by President George W. Bush, prompted schools to focus strictly on reading and math scores, which left little room for arts programs, music being one of the most-cut programs. Estes had a very simple word for this.

“Stop. Everyone has a lot of talent and they need the chance to explore what that may be, and music is one of those,” Estes said.

There are several ways, Estes believes, that could help the arts, even at Iowa State. First, he encourages people to come to concerts on campus.

“Most concerts here are free,” Estes said. “The staff at [Iowa State], not just in the music department, should encourage students to go and enjoy shows other than just the marching band at football games, like the chorus and orchestra concerts. High school students, especially, should be encouraged.”

Estes also wants to provide opportunities for students, both college and high school, to be able to afford and enjoy music programs. In March 2010, Estes commenced his ongoing Roots & Wings Tour which will bring him to perform in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Estes contributes 50 percent of his fee from these concerts to the Simon Estes Foundation to support scholarships for graduating high school seniors in the counties where he has performed.

According to the foundation’s website, “53 scholarships have been awarded to students across Iowa pursuing a wide range of academic studies in a college or university of the recipient’s choice.”

“I bring students from Iowa State and Wartburg to perform on this tour with me,” Estes said. “It gives students professional experience to show after they graduate, so they can go to jobs right afterwards.”

Even with being a professor at so many other universities across the states and across the Atlantic, Estes still has time to enjoy his adopted city of Ames and the university he has enjoyed teaching at for 15 years and counting.

“I plan to continue teaching in this manner and participating in the Ames Band Shell summer performances as I have for many years.”