The choir at diminutive Sandy Valley High practices well outside the spotlight. The school is located approximately 50 miles southwest of Las Vegas.
But on Saturday night, its dedication under the guiding hand of instructor Jenny Auer will pay an unexpected dividend when its members take the stage at the Primm Valley Resorts’ Star of the Desert Arena to back up Foreigner on the rock super group’s hit “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
Under that intense spotlight, choir members will get a chance to watch Thom Gimbel in action. He’s Foreigner’s talented multi-instrumentalist. Gimbel moves easily from guitar to saxophone and other instruments occasionally.
Gimbel’s such a seasoned pro the young singers would be forgiven for not thinking of the years of practice and lessons that went into his craft.
It’s no surprise Gimbel has great respect for his music teachers and musical influences. He knows that a dedicated teacher can make a big difference in a young person’s life. That’s why he’s taught lessons himself at times during his career.
“I think anyone who has done any amount of teaching realizes you learn a lot by doing it,” Gimbel says. “You have to crystalize ideas in your own mind to put those ideas across.”
Although his touring schedule prevents him from teaching as much as he once did, “I still try to sort of mentor some of the people we meet along the way.” Whether it’s a tip on how to adjust a saxophone reed or the proper mouthpiece to use, he knows a well-placed pointer can make a big difference to a beginner.
“I still love talking about it,” he says. “I think teaching is definitely one of those thing where it’s a win-win for both parties involved.”
He counts himself fortunate to have had parents who encouraged his musical pursuits even when he began adding instruments. He took plenty of lessons, and eventually attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
These days, Gimbel might be having more fun than anyone onstage.
“It is an absolute kick,” he says. “I enjoy it immensely. I feel so fortunate my parents encouraged me to keep learning instruments. It’s not like they were being completely altruistic. The more time I spent practicing on the instruments, the less time I spent being picked up.”
In that regard, Gimbel might say he played his way out of trouble. Looking back, he realizes how important it was to channel that energy into something positive and creative.
Sandy Valley Principal Christopher Lounsbery appreciates the attention his hard-working students are receiving.
“What a great opportunity for the kids,” Lounsbery says. “… It’s a very unique school, and our kids deserve every experience that larger comprehensive high schools get in town.”
Lounsbery says the choir’s success will be celebrated by the community.
“People have come together for a number of things,” he says. “This is one more positive thing that the community can look to.”
The honor is especially gratifying for music teacher Auer, who has worked with some of her aspiring singers at the K-12 school since they were in the early grades.
“They’re definitely excited,” Auer says not long before taking the stage with her students and a few Sandy Valley alumni to help round out the 21-person group. “We’ve been practicing, of course, at school, and outside of school. The community is definitely excited about it, too.”
Not everyone can make a living at music, or tour 100 dates a year with Foreigner as Gimbel does.
But, then again, if it can happen to a group of high school kids from rural Nevada even for an evening, anything is possible.
No matter what the future brings to the Sandy Valley High choir’s members, they’ll always be able to say they hit the big time for at least one night.
Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-383-0295.