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Teacher created East Valley’s Strolling Strings program

Thu., May 30, 2013, midnight

Marla Pflanz, longtime music teacher at East Valley High School, stands in her classroom at the school May 22. (Jesse Tinsley)
Marla Pflanz, longtime music teacher at East Valley High School, stands in her classroom at the school May 22. (Jesse Tinsley)

Pflanz retiring after 35 years

East Valley High School’s Strolling Strings have performed all over the area, for the enjoyment of the music.

“It’s really been great for our program,” said orchestra director Marla Pflanz. “They really are role models.”

Pflanz started the Strolling Strings at the school, making a name for the music program. On June 14, her 68th birthday, she will retire.

“Music is still always going to be there,” she said. “Maybe I’ll rearrange it in some way.”

Pflanz said her parents influenced her career choice.

“My mom loved teaching, and my dad loved music,” she said. “What else was I going to do but teach music?”

She began taking piano lessons in the third grade and violin in the fourth grade. She started teaching in Wisconsin before her husband decided to attend Gonzaga Law School.

“When I first came to East Valley, there was no string program,” she said. She taught elementary band and general music.

“There was an interest in the string program, and I wanted to be a part of it,” she said.

In 1988, she moved to the high school after teaching at Mountain View Middle School and at the grade-school level. It was about this time, she remembered a program she saw while she was still in Wisconsin.

She and her husband, Fred, were in Minneapolis when they saw a performance by the Golden Strings.

“We were just amazed,” she said.

The director of that group had an idea to arrange music for high school students to perform while mobile. It became a very popular activity in the Midwest, and in the 1990s there were national workshops for teachers. String players walk through the audience playing music, even cellists have a shoulder rest so they can walk and play at the same time.

It’s the only program of its kind in Spokane, and Pflanz said she didn’t ever want to compete with the group.

“I love that concept of sharing and having fun through music and not competing,” she said.

Her students have made her career something special for her. Looking around her music room at East Valley, there are photographs of past orchestras and gifts from her students from over the years. There is an oar students have signed. There is a carving of the word “Love” that also has student signatures.

This year during the annual Spring String Fling, students collaborated with the yearbook staff to find old pictures of Pflanz and her orchestras. They mounted all the pictures into a frame and presented it to her during the concert.

“I’ve always been blessed with really creative, kind, smart (students) … I could go on and on with adjectives for them,” she said. “That is what I’ll miss.”

Now that she’s retiring, she’s looking forward to turning off the alarm clock she has had set for 4:45 a.m. for so many years. She wants to be able to read a book without interruption. She wants to travel and reconnect with family and old friends.

“I just want to kind of smell the roses a little bit,” she said.

Her son, Carl-Erik, is now 30 and lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Jessica, and she hopes to see more of them.

One thing she would like to do is form an informal group of alumni musicians to meet and play. Many of them haven’t picked up their instruments in a while and some now have children in her classes.

She said music is an outlet many students need.

“If they are stressed or angry or happy, the first thing they do is get their instrument out,” she said.

Bringing music into people’s lives has made her career something she has enjoyed so much, she put off retiring until now. She said she’s going to miss everyone, from the cooks, to the custodial staff to other teachers.

“I’ve never thought of this as a job,” she said.



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