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During her life, Beverley Taylor Sorenson donated millions of dollars to Utah universities and colleges to train art teachers and integrate arts into schools. Since her death in May, many in the community wondered who might have the money and the passion to fill the void.
Northern Utah entrepreneur Gaylen Rust is a likely candidate, although he is far too modest to admit it.
Rust, a Utah native and president of Rust Rare Coin, has quietly become an expert on arts education. Through his Legacy Music Alliance charity, he has given nearly $2 million of his own money to ensure that the arts remain part of the Utah school curriculum, as well as provide opportunities for local musicians once they graduate.
Rust and his wife, Denise, also have founded R Legacy Entertainment, a recording label that promotes Utah musicians internationally.
"He's going to change music education in Utah," said Craig Jessop, chairman of the alliance's advisory board and dean of Utah State University's Caine College of the Arts. "What I'm seeing is that the whole educational model is changing … and Gaylen is on the leading edge of that."
Rust's ardent promotion of the arts is not what one might expect. An expert in early Mormon and Utah coins and currency, he raises horses on his west Layton ranch. He is the father of five children three sons, two daughters and grandfather of seven. He has a fine singing voice, though he is not a musician and has never played an instrument. But Rust knows that music makes better citizens, and that is what drives him.
"I see it as an obligation," he said. "For generations coming up, video games send the wrong message. I don't see [video] games as teaching unity." Music, he added, teaches children to work as a team to attain a common goal.
"I've been to every university in the state," Rust said. "I've seen the levels of educators and the level of students, and then I see the lack of support, and it's discouraging."
Howard Summers, the band teacher at Lehi Junior High School, said the school has been able to buy a tuba and bolster the instrument repair budget thanks to Rust's generosity. "He believes that if you are successful in music, you can be successful in life," Summers said of Rust.
Making progress • In the three years since the Legacy Music Alliance was formed, professional musicians and students have recognized Rust's impact.
Rust, for example, was an early supporter of Ryan Innes and helped fund an album for the singer, who recently participated on the television singing competition "The Voice." Rust also has been a big supporter of Refinement Records, the new Draper label that recently sponsored a tour featuring Innes and two other Utah musicians who were successful on "The Voice."
"Gaylen backs up everything he believes in," Innes said.
Others are taking notice. In February, the Utah Music Educators Association honored Gaylen and Denise Rust with the 2012 Outstanding Service to Music Education Award. The award "epitomizes what is best about the entrepreneurial spirit in Utah and the positive impact it's having on music education in the state," said UMEA president Don Peterson when presenting the honor. Their vision "has given hope and encouragement in a way that I have not witnessed during the last 40 years of music education in Utah. Simply put, their vision of a quality music education for all young people in Utah has inspired and energized all of us."
Rust's energetic imprint can be seen in other ways, as well.
• Earlier this year he helped the Crescent Super Band, a teen group based in American Fork, and 50 other young musicians travel to New York City to headline at Carnegie Hall. His record label bankrolled a holiday album with all of the proceeds going to the band.
• The Utah Wind Symphony's 2013-14 season is sponsored by the Legacy Music Alliance, and Rust is largely responsible for bringing the relatively new ensemble to fruition. Originally created by a University of Utah graduate student and a local high-school band director, the Wind Symphony now includes faculty and graduates from the University of Utah, Utah State, Weber State and Brigham Young University. "Gaylen has helped us out tremendously," said Scott Hagen, director of the UWS. "[Without him] it would be a whole different ensemble. We wouldn't be able to draw the people we've been able to bring in."
• Rust helped produce and distribute albums by prominent Utah musicians including "Born Brave" by Katherine Nelson and "A Hymn Revival Vol. 2" by Utah County supergroup Lower Lights. Utah audiences may be familiar with Nelson, who portrayed Emma Hale Smith in the films "Emma Smith: My Story" and "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration."
• Rust also has launched three major programs: Instruments to Students for Schools, Educator Essential for Teachers and Jump Start Group Lessons. These initiatives have helped to purchase new instruments, refurbish old ones, underwrite scholarships, buy software and method books as well as cover travel expenses for a Utah school invited to the prestigious Midwest Clinic in Chicago. "His impact is becoming substantial throughout the state," said Summers. "People are realizing that he's for real. There's no hidden agenda."
Musical recruits • Some Utah musicians are so impressed with Rust and his work, they have quit their day jobs to work for him and his growing Legacy Music Alliance.
Keith Sorensen was director of bands at Layton High School before becoming the alliance's director of K-12 programs.
"He struck me as a genuine human being," said Sorensen. "From the time I was 11, I was in public music education. I'm aware of its challenges and what it can be. Good music education makes better students. I've been bought and sold on his vision. … I've never met someone who has the energy and passion for what he does."
Michael Huff was the Gaylen D. and Denise Rust Visiting Professor of Music Education and Commercial Music at Utah State University's Caine College of the Arts funded by you know who. He left recently to become the alliance's executive program director.
"There's so much good that he is trying to do," said Huff, who once was associate conductor of the Utah Symphony Chorus. "He has a really dogged determination to make this work. You can force things, but a better thing is to identify something that needs to be done and then create the environment where it can be done. … Folks should know that music and the arts in schools are in constant threat."
History • Rust first became involved in music when he was asked to produce a concert featuring Utah singer Daniel Beck. Promoting Beck's music was difficult because there wasn't a well-established network to get the word out. Frustrated, Rust reached out to Jessop for advice. Later, Jessop invited Rust to accompany him to New York City, where Jessop conducted the Carnegie Hall National High School Choral Festival.
Standing at the side of the stage, Rust was captivated.
"It was one of the most transforming experiences of my life," said Rust, who tears up when talking about the show. "Watching Craig in that space, with kids that were passionate about delivering [was emotional]. I could watch that energy flow from Craig to his students, to the crowd. It was like a rock star performing."
Over the next few months, Jessop and Rust had a continuing conversation on what needed to be done to instill passion and create support for music education. When Rust decided to launch the alliance in 2010, he asked Jessop to come onboard, with the idea of connecting schools and colleges to build partnerships that too often don't exist.
"I don't put my name on too many projects," said Jessop, the former music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "Gaylen is one of the few."
In the future, Rust says the Legacy Music Alliance will continue to reach out to schools and colleges across the state to help them network, hopefully creating a groundswell of support that intensifies and persuades others to help.
Rust said he won't rest until every school in the state has the means to offer an inspiring arts program.
"Music is alive and well because of Gaylen Rust," Hagen said. "The word needs to get out."
But the word won't likely come from Rust's mouth. He's too modest.