A great light went out in Montezuma Valley last week. The sun in the east does not rise as brightly here in California, and I know it is because Ralph Vavak is no longer with us. The whole community in the valley, on the Western Slope and beyond changed because of his love for music, which he innately knew as the true, common language for all of life.
He had just been hired as Montezuma County High School band and choir director when we first moved to Cortez. He started the Madrigal Choir, the Choralaires (50 voices for more than 50 years), led the marching band to national award-winning status, and introduced many, who would otherwise never have known, to the wonderful acceptance that music brings.
He continued to serve the community as a substitute teacher at the high school after he retired and into his 80s. “Mr. V” was respected and honored by every student he worked with. He had gained incredible insight over the years and elicited the best from us that any could give.
Some in the community knew Vavak through his horses, as well. He raised Arabians, and when he grew frail, former students helped him on his ranch to maintain and care for them.
His connections to the music world remained. He accompanied all the band’s trips. And he brought all types of music to our ears, from medieval to classical to jazz and pop. He brought a quiet joy to all he touched. His humor was legendary. And even though he is now gone, his light is not diminished: Many of his students have become music directors at schools across the country, and share that same joy of life and communion. We were so blessed. Keep counting them all, please.
Vila Schwindt, Oakland, Calif.