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Weatherford family brings music to education

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The home school-based Sawyer family may call Weatherford home, but they have they have found a way to connect to Texans’ musical roots by traveling throughout the state and performing for different school districts.

The idea came from father David Stanley Sawyer, who has a background in bluegrass and played internationally before encouraging his children, 14-year-old David Sergei Sawyer and 16-year-old Leah Sawyer, to pick up the family trade.

Last Tuesday, Sergei and Leah performed at Mary Martin Elementary for the 4th-grade music program with an auditorium so packed, parents had their backs to the walls.

“I’ve always played music, I’ve played guitar and just stringed instruments in general,” Stanley Sawyer said.

“We just got to know people and they just asked ‘hey can you come and provide Texas music for square dancing.’ They usually don’t want the dad they just want the kids,” he said.

“We’ve been in Durango, Colorado for Cowboy festival(s) and we’re asked to go into local schools and play. So, generally it’s when we’re involved with an event in the area and the schools learn about it and they invite us.”

Sawyer’s son, Sergei was adopted from Russia.

“I had been to Russia years prior to being married, played acoustic music for some festivals in Russia,” Stanley Sawyer said.

When the decision to adopt internationally was made with Stanley Sawyer’s wife, Kathy, Russia was at the top of the list.

“Russia was the first thing I thought of,” he said.

Music has always been a crucial part of her life, Leah Sawyer said.

“I had my first lesson when I was five, but my dad is a musician, so he’s been taking me to jam sessions and had instruments in my hand since I was two or three (years-old),” she said.

Trumpets, bass, guitars, fiddles and violins are some of the many instruments the siblings can play together.

“We just got into country music and western swing music because of the connections of my dad and the friends we’ve met around Weatherford,” Leah Sawyer said.

“I love it,” she said. “I think the Texas music program that they do with fourth graders here is such a cool program. I love genuinely sharing this music with other people and I love that they’re excited about it,” she said. 

Music being played by school-age musicians appeals to school districts, Leah Sawyer said.

“They want other school-age kids like us,” she said. “Just to know that you can play professionally and play a lot at a young age and that music is something to be excited about.”

Sergei Sawyer is considering going to Weatherford College and playing in its jazz band while pursuing his passion for roping, and Leah Sawyer wants to go to West Texas A&M and get a degree in music industry. 

One of the best parts of traveling and learning as musicians through homeschool is meeting new people, Sergei Sawyer said.

“You meet a lot of new people, we’ve made a lot of great friends,” he said.

Texas history and music are inextricably linked, said Mary Martin Elementary school music teacher Elizabeth Baker.

“Fourth grade is the year that kids study Texas history, so I tie into that and do a Texas program for their music program,” said. “They get to learn all of the awesome music from our Texas heritage. 

“I think that if you’re going to understand Texas history, you’re going to need to understand it from all aspects. So, it’s hard to just study the stories and not look into what was going on musically during the time. If you look at cowboy culture you can’t study cowboy culture without getting into the music.

“You don’t know that culture if you haven’t looked at the music and figured out what they’re listening to, what they’re writing, what they’re inspired by (and) what they’re performing.”

Baker is friends with the Sawyer family and asked them to perform.

“They have been family friends for a long time and I was just thinking, ‘Man it would be cool to have live accompaniment for the dances,’” she said.

Family participation is high every year, Baker said.

“My parents are amazing, I always have huge attendance at my programs, the parents are very supportive of music education, they really turnout,” she said. “When we have a program the kids come, the parents come, the grandparents come, the aunts and uncles come, everybody comes.”

“I’m a very spoiled music teacher because those students and the parents are very enthusiastic and very supportive of everything we do,” Baker said.

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