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Leaving for Las Vegas | Darren Motamedy Slide Show
Slowly but surely, Darren Motamedy has been saying goodbye to Kent, to the school district, to the gigs, to the place he lived for more than 40 years.
On July 29 he played at Music in the Park at Lake Wilderness Park to a record crowd of more than 900. Many in the audience were former students of the saxophone player who taught for more than 20 years in the Kent School District, including at elementary schools in Covington, as a substitute and more recently as a full-time teacher.
Afterward fans, kids and parents of former students lingered around the stage for more than 30 minutes to get autographs, chat about music, and more importantly about his next big journey — Las Vegas.
“It’s been a long time coming for me to move,” Motamedy said. “It was time for me to grow and get out of my comfort zone... to challenge myself.”
Little more than two weeks ago he loaded up a moving van and drove to the desert looking forward to a sun drenched future in teaching and music.
Budget woes in the Kent School District created “a wake up call to look at other options.”
“When cataclysmic events like that occur, people either rise to the challenge and figure out a plan, or they get crushed by it,” Motamedy said. “It didn’t come as a huge surprise. I think a lot of people didn’t want to talk about it. Kind of out of sight, out of mind.”
It was never out of Motamedy’s sight or mind, though, because at the end of the past two school years his position was cut during the district’s budget process.
He was re-hired the first time around after the district decided to cut fifth and sixth grade band two years ago. He began contacting districts in other parts of the country.
“What I was most proud of with the Kent School District is that they made band something for everybody,” he said. “It makes less of an elite program when you include everybody, however, when you do include everybody you’re giving everybody an equal opportunity — from Somali kids to girls to boys to wealthy kids to homeless kids. Sometimes, I felt like a surrogate father at some of my schools.”
Band, he went on, is a class where students take all that they do in individual subjects such as reading and writing and math then put it all together to make music.
“It’s the only class where people are using their tongues to blow and their eyes to read and their feet to tap and ingesting what they’re seeing on a piece of paper to create a product and that’s something no other class can do,” he said. “Education isn’t just about reading and writing. It’s about learning how to get along with people and develop social skills.”
And there is no place better, Motamedy added, than a band class for young people to learn how be part of something bigger than them, how to be team players, how to follow a leader and how to put all those skills together at once.
Mary Kinder, who first met Motamedy when she was in high school while he was student teaching, is now a parent who has witnessed firsthand how much of an impact band can be when her son, Parker, was a student at Jenkins Creek Elementary.
“Darren saw his musical talent and encouraged him to go beyond what the books taught him,” Kinder said in an e-mail. “He gave him encouragement, confidence to explore his own musical abilities and Parker has continued to push himself musically. Darren took the time to get know his students and bond with them, being a mentor and friend as well as a teacher.”
Kinder said Motamedy “will be so missed in the Northwest.”
Motamedy said he doesn’t blame anyone in the school district and he knows the cuts do not come from malice but rather what is viewed as necessity.
He sees it as a result of a trickle down effect of a failing economy and a country fighting two wars.
“They’re making some really difficult choices,” he said of district officials.
He was at the top of the re-hire list this year, too, but he had already made the choice to move.
It was time.
While he loved teaching elementary school band, bouncing between five different schools had advantages and disadvantages, with the latter outweighing the former.
“The whole move to Vegas, it was very spiritual,” he said. “I was looking for a place where maybe I could have one office and six classes a day. If there was a problem with a kid I could follow up on it after school. I was looking to be more effective as a person, too.”
He also just needed a change. New surroundings. New musical challenges.
Let’s face it, the Pacific Northwest gets pretty dreary, and the desert heat had a certain appeal.
But there’s so much more to it than that.
“We went to Las Vegas to years ago. We’d never been and we loved it,” Motamedy said. “My wife said she loved it. She loved the energy of the place. She said, ‘I’d love to live here.’”
Anita, his wife of 13 years, as well as their three children were totally behind the idea of re-locating. The oldest, 20, is attending school in London, while their middle child, 18, will finish high school in Las Vegas and their 11 year old son will be starting middle school this fall.
“The kids said, ‘Let’s go,’” Motamedy said. “This was meant to be. We made a decision and we went.”
Motamedy said he wanted to fight to get gigs again because “people who have to fight for things probably have more room to grow.”
Like he has here, he plans to teach and has an offer to work at a middle school in Las Vegas, as well as continue working as a professional musician.
“I love teaching, so, it’s perfect for me,” he said. “I love playing and I know I’ll be playing, so it’s a good balance for me.”
He has 10 studio albums to his name with his ninth record, “Don’t Cha’ Know,” reaching no. 4 on the indie jazz charts.
Once he gets settled in Sin City — as of Aug. 1 he had only spent one day in his new town — Motamedy will start looking for gigs.
“As soon as I land, I’m going to do what musicians do here, I’m going to go to a jam session,” he said. “I’m going to find an agent. I’m poised. My water bottle is full and I’m ready to go.”
It will be tough, though, for many in his hometown to let him go. Motamedy expects plenty of visitors from the Northwest once he gets settled and big crowds whenever he comes back to play.
For Michele LaBare, whose kids went to Jenkins Creek Elementary in Covington where Motamedy taught, it is hard to say goodbye.
“Darren will be greatly missed by so many Kent area students and parents,” LaBare said in a message on Facebook. “He really inspired the students and cared deeply about teaching them and bringing out the best in every one of them.
His dedication and generosity with his time in helping our children find the budding musician within them, will always be remembered and greatly appreciated by so many that had the pleasure of knowing him.”