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Swallow Hill's new music-school director Andres Cladera has a broad definition of folk music

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The distance between classical and folk music isn't so great for Swallow Hill's new music-school director. Swallow Hill Music officials announced this week that Uruguay native and Carnegie Mellon University alum Andres Cladera will fill the post. He replaces Michael Schenkelberg, who has held the job since 2007. In his new role, Cladera will oversee director duties at the historic music school's new satellite location in the Lowry neighborhood that opened earlier this month.

Cladera may seem an unlikely fit for Swallow Hill, a music and concert facility that opened in 1979 as an offshoot of Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee Harry Tuft's Denver Folklore Center. The school operates on a model rooted in accessibility and community, with a stress on folk music. Though classes range from guitar to accordion for students from toddlers to adults, Swallow Hill has never posed as a conservatory.

But school officials insist that Cladera is an ideal fit for the school and its newest classroom space centered at the Colorado Free University building at the former Lowry Air Force Base. Cladera has held posts as executive director of the Microscopic Opera Company and the Renaissance City Choirs based in Pittsburgh. He received his master's degree in orchestral conducting from Carnegie Mellon University and his Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in piano and vocal performance from the College of Charleston.

It's a professional and academic résumé with clear roots in the world of classical music, a seemingly different world from the democratic, accessible and downright folky mission that's always served as Swallow Hill's bedrock.

"It's interesting. When I looked at his résumé, I wondered if this was a big left turn for him," says Swallow Hill Executive Director Tom Scharf. "[But] that community piece is really what he is all about.... He was very sympatico with our outlook and our teaching method. In execution, I think he's a great cultural fit."

For his part, Cladera insists that varied experience in the classical realm isn't such a far cry from the world of folk music.

"What's really important to me is that music is music. Classical, folk music -- there's a common ground there," Cladera says. "I come from a Latin background. To me, folk music in Uruguay is drumming, it's tango, it's merengue, it's a little bit of salsa. A lot of folk music that is part of life isn't necessarily in my training, but it's part of who I am. It's how I connect to Swallow Hill music."

On that note, Cladera adds that he'll look to incorporate different traditions into the instruction at the Swallow Hill satellite school, which is opening with a program that includes early-childhood development courses; guitar, uke and violin classes for older kids; and banjo, guitar, fiddle and uke classes for adults.

"I'm hoping to reach the African-American community, the Latino community," Cladera adds. "I want to bring in those traditions and that music to Swallow Hill as well."

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