It would be safe to say Louie Blaser has the music in him. His days are filled with directing bands in Lewis County, playing the piano or tooting beautiful melodies on the clarinet.
He certainly has musical genes. Blaser’s father, Joe Blaser, is the current band director at Centralia Middle School. His grandfather, Ron Brumbaugh, taught band for both Centralia College and the Centralia schools, and still plays in the community band. His other grandfather, Werner Blaser, was also a beloved community musician.
“You’d want to say it’s in the blood with the Blasers,” said Gary Calkins, Joe’s band director at Centralia High School and his music teacher in elementary school. “Most of the students I had, I taught them how to play. Louie walked in the door and he was an accomplished player.”
Besides teaching music during school time, Louie’s job as band director also requires him to put on concerts throughout the year and direct the pep band on Friday nights for both home football and home basketball games. The day after Thanksgiving, Louie took his high school band to participate in a parade in Seattle.
In addition to school events with Centralia High School, Louie has also been the director of the Lewis County Community Band for the past 10 years. And he’s played clarinet for the Northwest Wind Symphony and saxophone for the local Sound of Swing Big Band.
Louie’s passion for music is keeping step with his dad and grandpas’. His grandpa Ron started the community band in 1989. And Ron was the band director in the Centralia school district from 1958 to 1983. Today Ron, at age 84, still plays in the community band that his grandson now directs.
“I guess you could say he’s my student,” Louie said with a chuckle.
Gary Calkins, a 1969 Centralia High School graduate who taught music for 37 years, called Louie the best musician he ever taught. But Louie’s natural talent wasn’t the only key that opened the door. There’s also his commitment to practice, to play hour after hour. He insists that there’s more to it than natural talent.
“I had a talent for it because I worked at it,” Louie said. “I really spent a lot of time honing my skills. Just like anything else. If I wanted to play basketball and to get good at free throws, I’d have to do the same thing – shoot basketballs every night for four hours. If you want to be good at something, you have to do it over and over.”
When asked what instrument he plays, Louie said, “Well, I think a better question is what instrument do I play the most.” As a band teacher, he prides himself on being able to play pretty much every instrument – except bassoon. “But my main instrument that I’ve played the longest is piano,” Louie said.
After graduating from Centralia High School in 2000, Louie faced that crucial question – what’s next? Naturally, for Louie it was following musical notes. While earning his BA in music education at Central Washington University, Louie taught intermediate band at Ellensburg Christian School for two years.
Picking up a musical instrument as a child was prodded by Louie’s parents. But, Louie said, following music as a career was his decision, not his parents.
“My dad would tell you he never directed us towards music,” Louie said. “But it was an expectation of our education that we’d be in band. He felt that was important that we had that musical foundation … Whether we chose to stick with it after high school, that was our choice.”
“I happened to be really good at music,” Louie said. “I practice a lot. It’s one of the things I found I really enjoy. I also played baseball. I loved baseball. But I wasn’t very good at it. It’s hard to practice baseball on your own. So I decided in seventh grade not to play baseball any more. Instead, I’d focus my energy on what I was good at, which was music.”
It’s a decision he’s never regretted. In the first seven years at Centralia High School from 2005 to 2012, the school’s band grew from 58 students to 92 students, nearly doubling. His love of music inspired others to follow. He showed his students that learning to play an instrument was rewarding and there was satisfaction in playing music with others.
“The personal enjoyment is a huge part of it,” Louie said. “A lot of people play music on their own. A lot learn how to play guitar. That personal fulfillment of just being able to sit down and play is a valuable experience. But playing with your friends in a giant group is also fun in a different way.”
Louie compared playing trumpet in a band to playing shortstop on a baseball team. “There’s not too many things outside of sports where you can participate and work together for a common goal,” Louie said.
As you get better and better, Louie said you’re able to make artistic choices. Interpret music in your own way. “Bring a piece of music to life. That for me is what I like about it. It’s like putting together a puzzle. Figuring stuff out.”
“That personal fulfillment and that sense of community is what I really enjoy,” Louie said. “That’s what I hope my students take away from it when they leave high school and move on to other things. All those skills they can take with them into the work force.”
Louie’s musical roots run deep. His commitment is unbending. And what’s worked out so perfectly for him is that he and his father now direct Centralia school district music programs together – Louie at the high school and Joe at the middle school. The Blasers share the duties of teaching grade school students.
“What’s cool now is Louie is the high school band director and his dad is the middle school band director,” Gary said. “Together they are the Centralia music program and band program.”
It’s a tune the community knows and loves.