Clark and Lewis! : Glacier Gateway musical performance spans a generation

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Performing Lewis and Clark last week, left to right: Scannon, Sol Masters; Lewis, Tiptin Tourville, Clark, Eddie Davis, Charbonneau, Jackson Harris, Sacajawea, Tia Baker. (Chris Peterson photo)

If you’ve ever seen the fourth-grade musical “Lewis and Clark” you can’t help but leave the performance humming the title tune.

It takes about 15 seconds to get stuck in your brain, there for a lifetime.

“Lewis and Clark, Clark and Lewis, heading West to see what they can find...” and on for 40 minutes, exploring the West in song.

Last Friday the fourth-graders at Glacier Gateway Elementary School put on their 20th performance of the musical under longtime teacher Marlene Hanson.

The first performance was back in the spring 1999, she said. Lewis and Clark was written by Roger Emerson and John Jacobson. Hanson actually met Jacobson during a trip to California last year. She told him her fourth-graders performed the musical 19 years running.

“He was amazed,” she said.

Hanson grew up in Saco. Her family ranched and grew cattle. She started playing the band in fifth grade and sang in the school choir in seventh. She’s been a musician ever since. She got her bachelor’s in music education from the University of Montana and later, a master’s degree in music education from St. Thomas University. She’s taught music at Glacier Gateway for 30 years now.

Lewis and Clark is part of the fourth-grade curriculum and the musical fits right in, she noted. It takes the kids about eight weeks to learn their parts. This year’s cast included 93 students — the most ever.

The show usually goes off in the spring, but this year, with the spring schedule being tight due to testing, she moved it to fall.

The kids didn’t skip a beat, she noted.

“They were ready to perform,” she beamed. “I was so proud of them.”

The first performance nearly 20 years ago was a bit more challenging. For one, they had to make all the costumes. They bought coonskin caps at the Huckleberry Patch. She bought 22 bolts of clothing to make the Indian and other costumes. Her aunt, Marilyn Hadford, gave her advice, but it was up to Hanson and a host of parents to do all the sewing.

She recalled one mom sewing the tassels on an Indian costume in the parking lot just minutes before the show.

Scannon, the dog who provides comic relief through the musical (everything is ruff) is actually a lion costume with the mane cut off, she noted.

While the Indian costumes look like rawhide, they’re actually washable material. Each year, they go to the laundry, are repaired if need be, then put in storage for the next year.

Generations of students have now appeared in the musical.

Hanson doesn’t know when she’ll retire. She’s still having fun, she said.

“I haven’t made up my mind,” she said.

A Scannon would say, it’s a ruff decision.

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