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New formula for the orchestra

Middle school students practice scales at their strings sectional class.

photo by Jessie Lehman

Middle school students practice scales at their strings sectional class.

Jessie Lehman, Reporter

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Music fills the room as the middle school orchestra gathers to practice. This orchestra was not always something the middle school could offer, but due to changes to the middle school schedule, the music department was able to provide new opportunities for students to participate in the orchestra.

In previous years, the middle school music band consisted of several, individual ensembles that would each work on their own songs, whereas the new program contains one large orchestra that works together on each piece. The goal is to not only upgrade the quality of music, but also to teach students new teamwork skills that previously could not have been taught in the classroom.  

One of the ways in which this change has been manifested primarily is in the new schedule for the middle school students who participate in the orchestra.

“They meet a total of three times a week,” instrumental music teacher Charles Ostle said. “They have what’s called a sectional [class] that happens twice a week, and then we meet as a larger band on Fridays.”

While the format of the class is a shift from previous years, the more substantial adjustment was encouraging new students to start playing more classical, string instruments. Now, instead of the students being restricted to learning instruments such as the piano or  the guitar, they also have the option to play instruments such as the violin or the cello.

In the current middle school orchestra string section, there are three violas, three violins, one cello and one harp player.  This section of the middle school music orchestra is an extension of the Lower School program started when music teacher Gavri Yares decided to make the music program more serious.

“We have been very lucky that the strings program has blossomed at the Lower School, and now we are seeing the string players come up to the Upper School,” Director of Arts Education Dr. David Solomon said.

According to Solomon, encompassing a wider variety of instruments in the music program improves the system. During the week, students can get more personal group lessons from Ostle that are specific to the instrument that they play, which in tun creates a more efficient practice environment on Fridays when the whole band joins together.

The new system, however, does a lot more than just improve the quality of the music. The new arrangement teaches students about inclusion by bringing all music students together through one common passion.  

This has been a key improvement for students who play instruments not taught at the Upper School. According to Ostle, in the past, students who played these more unique instruments may have felt that their music would not fit in with any of the groups.

“I hope this shows people that no matter what instrument you play, there’s definitely a spot in the band for you,” Ostle said.

Sixth-grader Rebecca Bender plays the harp and has experience playing with other string instruments. Bender feels that the mix of different instruments has given her a new perspective on how her instrument interacts with others. .

“This year helped me see how my instrument impacts the other instruments, not just other harps,” Bender said.

According to Solomon, not only is the orchestra a good opportunity for students to understand more about music, but it also helps them build friendships.

“This is a sixth grade through eighth grade band, so this is an opportunity for middle school students to get to know kids in other grades,” Solomon said.

This opportunity can be a developmental stepping stone for many students. For some students, it is an encouraging opportunity for them to break out of their comfort zones and try playing new instruments. For others, such as Bender, it was just another opportunity to continue to play music, just with their friends.

The students will have their first performance as a full ensemble at the winter concert on Jan. 19.

We are looking forward to the winter concert when the curtain opens and the audience sees all of the students playing together and, of course, hears how great they are,” Solomon said.

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