Gerry Burton is the new music director at Rocky Mountain Middle/High School, but he’s certainly not a new face in the community, having lived in north Big Horn County for most of the last 13 years with ties to the area long before that.
Burton grew up in Green River and Star Valley, and during high school he played the trumpet in the Star Valley High School concert band and jazz band, as well as the school’s large symphonic band. A baritone in vocal music, he sang in the show choir and concert choir and also got his first taste of directing as the conductor of the school’s women’s choir at a concert in Jackson as a senior. He graduated from SVHS in 1989.
After serving a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Jersey, Burton worked to raise money for college and during that time met Ashlee Hyde, who became his eventual link to north Big Horn County when her parents, John and Carola, moved to Lovell in 1994. Gerry and Ashlee were married in the summer of 1993, moving to Lovell after that.
Burton enrolled at Northwest College in Powell and earned his Associate of Arts degree in 1996. He continued his education at the University of Wyoming, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in music in 1999. He then taught in Garden City, Kansas, for two years, teaching general music in grades K-4 and high school choir.
The Burtons returned to Big Horn County in 2001, and Gerry taught band and choir at Cloud Peak Middle School in Manderson and at Riverside High School in Basin.
During his time in Basin, Burton had the opportunity to teach students from the group home in Basin, and that piqued his interest in counseling. He returned to UW and earned a Master’s Degree in education/community based counseling, which allowed him to work in both schools and a community. His research was in the area of music and the mind, studying how music helps with emotion and feelings of well-being.
Burton earned his Master’s Degree in 2006 and moved back to Lovell, taking over EmRee Pugmire’s counseling practice, Connections Counseling. He still sees clients today, even though he has resumed teaching.
He took a break from his counseling practice as both he and Ashlee took teaching jobs in Thermopolis in 2016 with Gerry teaching middle school and high school band and choir for one year and Ashlee first grade for two years. Gerry returned to his counseling practice in 2017 and worked for two years before being hired at Rocky Mountain. Ashlee is a new kindergarten teacher in Lovell.
Burton teaches high school band and choir and middle school band at RMMHS, and he plans to start a jazz band, as well.
Burton said he’s very much enjoying teaching again, despite the challenges of a small school program that presents him obstacles like not having a single high school flute player. He said he’ll have to groom some eighth-grade flutists for the high school concerts. But he’s loving his return to teaching.
“It’s great,” he said. “I’m sure this is what we’d like to do until we’re retired…This community is home to us, and we’d like to keep it that way.
“There are a lot of good players here, though we lost a few students to Lovell.”
Burton is passionate about music as a lifelong joy.
“My philosophy of music is that music is a lifelong love of the arts,” he said. “You use it in everything you do. For them (his students) to take that with them would mean the most to me. We use music emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically.
“Music builds the mind. Reading music is one of the few ways to light up the whole brain. It builds neurological pathways. That’s an amazing thing.”
Burton wants music to be both fun and challenging, noting that many times the more challenging music is the more fun it can be.
“I’m excited,” he said of the school year ahead. “I want to continue to build the program, and our administration and staff are very supportive.”
By David Peck