Karen Blaney is the first to admit that she isn’t that musical. Her talents have always leaned more toward reading, teaching and directing plays.
But the Buffalo High School English teacher will soon stand among the members of the Wyoming Music Educators Association and accept an award celebrating her contributions to musical education.
“It’s kind of a neat thing,” Blaney said. “There are so many people in this community and this state who are working to enrich the lives of our youth through music. To be acknowledged for my own contributions is a real honor and privilege.”
Blaney will receive the WMEA’s Give a Note award, which honors “a person or group who increases public awareness and promotes public support for music education,” according to the WMEA. The award is given annually to those who do not work as professional music educators but still work to enrich Wyoming communities through music.
Blaney will be honored for her contributions to the Bighorn Bluegrass Camp, which is offered annually during the Big Horn Mountain Music Festival. Clear Creek Middle School director of bands Faustyna Staebler, who nominated Blaney for the award, said that she couldn’t think of a more deserving recipient.
“In our middle school jazz band right now, we have two guitarists and a bass player who play very well thanks in no small part to what they learned at the bluegrass camp,” Staebler said. “Through the camp, Karen has helped kids who are not normally interested in music develop a passion for it. Her investment in our youth is something that really pays dividends, and, as a band instructor, I have been able to reap the rewards of that.”
Blaney first heard about the bluegrass camp, which was then offered through a national organization called Bluegrass Camp for Kids, roughly five years ago when Johnson County Art and Humanities Council member Vikki Chenette gave her a call.
“Vikki thought the camp was something that my daughter Morgan would enjoy,” Blaney said. “Morgan was the kind of kid you didn’t send to camp alone, so I decided to volunteer at the camp, and I quickly fell in love with it.”
Blaney continued to volunteer with the camp year after year but eventually realized she could offer a similar service for less cost by not contracting with Bluegrass Camp for Kids. The Bighorn Bluegrass Camp was born. Blaney has served as the camp director for the past two years.
“I saw firsthand how the camp transformed my child’s life and made her a better musician and better person,” Blaney said. “I thought it would be selfish to reap all the benefits and not offer that same experience for other kids.”
Blaney said the bluegrass camp hasn’t just been good for the students.
“It really opened the door to passions I never knew I had,” Blaney said. “Before all this, I didn’t know how much I liked bluegrass music or how much I would enjoy promoting concerts. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself.”
Blaney said her involvement with the camp also introduced her to people who have become lifelong friends.
“Just being immersed in the larger bluegrass community has been the best thing ever,” Blaney said. “Being a part of it has changed my life.”
Blaney will receive her Give a Note award during the WMEA 2019 conference, which will be held in Casper on Jan. 20-22.