Sunday, March 4, 2018

Celebrating Strings

We spent the weekend celebrating the 130th anniversary of our little town's school strings program. I knew our town has a long history of supporting music, including school band and orchestra programs, a city band, music festivals, adult and youth symphony orchestras, and an assortment of oratorio societies, musical theater, and music performance programs. This year I learned that our town has the oldest public school orchestra in the country.  Other cities have extracurricular music programs that date back further, but our schools have been offering orchestra classes for credit during the regular school day since 1888! How cool is that?

Katherine first started begging to play the violin when she was about 4 years old. We ignored her requests for a long time, but she continued to ask. Sometimes daily. By the time she was in 2nd grade, her interest in the violin had only grown stronger. The school didn't offer orchestra classes until 5th grade, but we asked the orchestra teacher about the possibility of lessons. The teacher referred us to a private instructor and offered to measure Katherine to see what size violin she would need. Then she arranged for Katherine to borrow the first of several school violins. Katherine has had private lessons most weeks since then. She joined the school orchestra in 5th grade and orchestra quickly became her favorite class. It still is. She loves her teacher, loves her orchestra, and loves playing. She was proud to be a part of the 130th festivities this week.
Friday evening, Katherine and I went to an alumni recital. Former students from the 1960's to the present solos and duets and quartets. Their music selections were classical - Mozart, Vivaldi, Prokofiev, Massenet. And all were beautifully played. The audience reaction, however, was not the usual calm and polite crowd. There were 170 teenage strings students in the crowd, the sort of kids who tell bad orchestra jokes and geek out on violin concertos. They listened to each performance intently and then burst into cheers and screams as soon as the last note faded. It was a rock star reaction and the energy and excitement was tremendously fun!

Last night there was a 130th Anniversary Celebration concert, featuring pieces performed by the 6th, 7th, 8th, and high school orchestras, with alumni added. They filled the entire length of the high school gym.
The 8th grade orchestra played two pieces. Katherine played her usual violin for the first. (That's her, to the director's left.)

Last fall, Katherine asked if she could learn to play bass. She was interested in adding another instrument to her list and was looking for ways to challenge herself in orchestra class. Her teacher agreed to let her try. She practices in the orchestra room after school and has made enough progress that she now plays the bass in class, too. So for the second half of the concert, Katherine moved to the back row and played bass.
The evening continued with a history of the school's strings program, stories about the long line of orchestra teachers, and the premier performance of a piece commissioned for the event. Alumni joined the high school orchestra for several of the songs. The final piece was Beethoven's Ode to Joy, performed by all 200+ musicians, with four directors conducting simultaneously. It was beautiful and such fun!

I am so grateful for my town's commitment to music programs in the public schools. I appreciate how music teachers have recognized and nurtured Katherine's musical abilities. I am so glad that she has the opportunity to learn and perform music and to be a part of something much bigger than herself. And I love hearing beautiful music and watching my girl learn to love it, too.

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