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Musician works with Lakota students

Musician Ralph Hepola recently conducted workshops for students at St. Joseph’s Indian School as part of the South Dakota Arts Council’s Artists in Schools & Communities program.

“We had wonderful time learning about music with Ralph!” said Dave, St. Joseph’s art and music teacher. “Playing the tuba got a lot of big smiles - the kids had a great time.”

Coming from a long line of teachers, Ralph enjoys working with children.
Thomas holds a tuba that an artist brought to St. Joseph's. Thomas learned that a tuba weighs about 35 pounds.

“I've taught children since I got my music education degree from Northwestern University,” he said. “My experience is mostly individual music lessons, but I’ve also spent considerable time in the classroom. I was also very fortunate to study with legendary teacher and performer Arnold Jacobs, who was the tuba player in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 44 years. Three books have been published on his life and teaching. He certainly got me fired up about teaching music.”

In his first year with the Artists in Schools & Communities program, Ralph demonstrated how to play brass instruments, introduced the students to all six families of instruments, and gave an introduction to improvisation in music.
Lakota student excited about learning. Such big sounds got lots of giggles from the students!

“I hope I can get students excited about music,” he said. “I hope they'll want to participate in music programs every chance they get, and listen to live music every chance they get. When you're near someone playing a musical instrument, the excitement is contagious. It's good to listen to recordings, but live music is the best because it isn't second hand.”

Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota Ralph studied piano before starting on the tuba at age twelve. He went on to receive a number of esteemed awards, including a spot in the Manitoba All-Province Band in Brandon, Manitoba before the British Royal Family during their visit to Canada, a position with The United States Army Band of Washington, D.C. and a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music.
Lakota students learning about brass instruments. Ralph demonstrated how to play brass instruments.

Ralph earned his music degree at Northwestern University. He went on to perform in Europe and across the United States. Today, he performs professionally on three tubas, bass trombone, bass trumpet, cimbasso (Italian contrabass trombone) and piano. He is Principal Tubaist with the Minnesota Opera.

This program is sponsored by St. Joseph’s Indian School, with support provided by the South Dakota Arts Council with funds from the State of South Dakota, through the Department of Tourism and State Development, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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