Ron Curtis was in seventh grade when he decided he wanted to be a music director.
A teacher in Kuna first made the suggestion to Curtis, who, even at that young age, stepped in to direct the band and choir whenever the teachers were away for the day.
“Starting in seventh grade through high school, there would be a sub(stitute teacher), but I would take the class and lead it,” said Curtis, who’s now 41 and in his 15th year of directing the choirs at Vallivue High School. His nearly two-decade career also includes teaching at Melba and Boise schools. “At this point, I don’t know what else I would be doing.”
When Curtis started in the Vallivue district, he had 100 students each at Vallivue Middle and High Schools, but now directs 400 high schoolers in six choirs.
“The thing I love about high school is I get them (in grades) 9 through 12; I get them for four years,” Curtis said, adding he knows he can challenge that age group to meet his expectations, but they haven’t forgotten how to act like kids. And that’s the way he likes it.
“Being so serious all the time isn’t healthy,” he explained.
But if there’s a time to be serious, this would be it. It’s crunch time for Curtis, who is preparing his VHS students for holiday performances next month, plus directing a Treasure Valley holiday tradition: the Living Christmas Tree at College Church of the Nazarene. Five shows start Friday and run through Sunday.
This is his fourth year as director of the Tree — a structure lit with 100,000 lights programmed to complement music from a 90-voice adult choir, a children’s choir boasting 30 members and a live orchestra of 35 musicians, along with 20 actors performing a drama telling the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth.
In all, Curtis estimates there are as many as 200 people who are part of the Living Christmas Tree, including his wife, Heidi, and their two children, Brad and Madison, who sing in the choirs. Ron Curtis was a member of the adult choir off and on for 18 years before becoming director.
The three members of the Living Tree executive team start planning the following year’s production in February. Curtis’ realm is the music, while co-members Tiffany Kinzler and Caroline Hedman tackle erecting the tree and other aspects of the production.
“I don’t program any of the lights,” Curtis said. “I can’t even put up my Christmas lights at home.”
What he does do is lead rehearsals, which begin with one hour a week in September and grow to nightly run-through before the five shows.
“It’s a busy time, it’s a good time. I like to be busy,” Curtis said. “I find blessings in all of it. ... The more tired I get, the more I rely on God to give me the strength to get through all of it.
“I’ve actually enjoyed directing it more than I did singing it,” Curtis said, adding he gets to see the entire production from his vantage point facing the stage. “I have the best seat in the house.”