PIANIST SHARES HER TALENT, SPREADS CHRISTMAS CHEERTHROUGH MUSIC CD
There's a woman at Wallowa Lake who has always been full of Christmas spirit.
But this year she's done even more.
Gail Swart has produced a CD titled "Christmas Memories Gail Swart, Pianist"
The CD sells for $15. Half the proceeds go to the Enterprise Education Foundation to fund school programs that were cut by budget reductions. They include the ag, home ec and grade-school art programs.
The foundation also supplies equipment for the grade-school music program.
That program is still operating because Swart has been running it as a volunteer since she retired several years ago.
Fellow Wallowa Lake resident and musician Al Bell told Swart that it was her duty to make the Christmas CD because she is an institution. Other people also prompted her.
When Swart at last agreed, the thought came to her, "There's so much beautiful Christmas music out there, how will I choose?''
Swart ultimately decided to indulge in the "really personal stuff.''
Every piece on her CD has a personal memory, she said.
Apparently it does also for the other people connected to the music.
"I can barely listen (to one of the songs)," said her son, Don Swart Jr. His eyes welled up and he had to leave work, go up to the school and give her a great big hug, he said.
"It has been well received," Swart said of her CD.
She said she wanted to place the minimum order of 50, but Bell and Steve Larson, proprietor of Wallowa Lake Lodge, gave her such a hard time that she relented and ordered 100.
Those quickly sold out and have been reordered twice since.
"Christmas Memories" is available at the Bookloft in Enterprise, Enterprise School, the Joseph Book Shop and Wallowa Lake Lodge.
This is just the latest of Swart's contributions to spreading Christmas cheer throughout the holiday season.
This year she also performed a solo at the recent Winterfest slide show at the OK Theatre in Enterprise.
Several years ago she started the annual Christmas party at Wallowa Lake Lodge. It's open to the public, but it grew to fill the lodge to capacity, so reservations are
The party begins with everyone singing Christmas carols. Then dinner is served. After that, the patrons are entertained by local musicians. This year they ranged in age from a second-grader to Swart's twin 17-year-old grandsons, Tony and Craig Swart, in a brass ensemble, and Swart herself who is 68.
Swart is especially pleased when her former students show up to perform.
Since she taught for at least 35 years and started the Enterprise Elementary School music program, the odds are good that former students will be involved.
Swart is not only the mother of five who were all teen-agers at the same time but for decades at school she was like a mother to the children of nearly everyone in Enterprise.
Unlike other teachers, she did not just have a portion of one grade of students for one year. She had each entire class every year from kindergarten through junior high.
"I really got to know them as well as anyone," she said of what she termed a
"How could you not love this job?" Swart once said. "It's a magical combination of music and children. But she did admit that it required a lot of energy to be "switching gears" for each age group all day long.
Swart's peers said that she has a caring talent for getting kids interested, involved and excited about music.
Swart prepared and presented school Christmas programs like the junior high operetta for a very long time.
She still prepares and directs the little ones in the primary grades Christmas program, and accompanies the Enterprise High School band and choir for their Christmas concert.
"If not for her, we probably would not have had a high school choir," said Bob Clegg, retired Enterprise High School music teacher.
In addition to her elementary school duties, she came up daily to the high school to accompany the choir that Clegg directed.
For years Swart has played at the Christmas Eve candlelight services at the Enterprise Community Church.
She was also the Community Church organist for years. Since Swart can play in any key, she made it easy for people to sing hymns, by changing keys as she played. She adjusted the music to a range where men didn't have to strain to reach the highs and women didn't have to struggle to get down to the lows.
If one were to count up all the weddings, funerals and programs in which Swart has been involved it would run in the thousands, estimates her son, Don.
This gifted individual has been giving to her community ever since she graduated from Eastern Oregon College with a bachelor of science degree in education with a minor in music.
She studied music education her junior year at the University of Washington.
She began teaching in Enterprise and Lostine. Along the way she took a sabbatical from teaching to study music education at Boise State University.
"We worked together for many years," Clegg said.
He describes her as the "epitome of dedication." She is an extremely accomplished pianist, one of the best musicians in the state, Clegg said.
She is truly gifted, one of the few musicians with perfect pitch, he said. Clegg said that he could only guess that perfect pitch might be an attribute of no more than one in 100,000 people.
But talent is not her only gift. So is her sharing of that talent and dedication to her community.
Once again Gail Swart is doing more than ever to add to her community's Christmas festivities.