High school music scales up at MJC Orchestra Day

naustin@modbee.comNovember 22, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

Teen musicians hit a responsive chord at Modesto Junior College High School Orchestra Day, an annual “celebration of music in public education,” as organizer Anne Martin put it.

There was more to celebrate this year, with orchestra back at Beyer High and a growing orchestral program in its second year at Johansen High. About 250 musicians from nine schools participated, Martin said, significantly more than last year.

Students performed works by Brahms, Grice, Holst, Newbold, Purcell, Smetana and Vivaldi. Each high school also performed a 10-minute selection of orchestra repertoire. The event ended with the Irish reel “Finnegan’s Wake,” performed by more than 200 string musicians.

Grandparents Greg and Barry Schroeder were among those listening. Barry Schroeder said she was pleased with Johansen’s music program under Brad Hart. “He’s done a lot of things with that group,” she said. Granddaughter Meghan Hildebrand, a senior, said she’s in band, jazz band and orchestra classes this year.

She’ll be marching through neighborhoods for the band’s holiday fundraiser the evenings of Dec. 6 and 13, a Hart innovation that includes parents riding in golf carts. After years of stiff budget cuts to music, any amount raised is a help. But Hart said the community reaction has been the greatest reward.

“Music’s coming back to the schools,” said retired high school and college teacher R.J. Moriconi, sitting in the audience. He came just to enjoy hearing the young musicians perform, calling much of what he heard “superb.”

“It’s starting to come back, bits at a time,” said Gregori High’s Dan Bryan. Bryan set up Gregori’s program four years ago, creating a music technology program but not a marching band. The switch felt like a good fit for Gregori, he said, and students from many disciplines are filling the classes.

At Beyer, Marcos Rivera is a director of ensembles this year. He said with the orchestra back, “band director” did not fit. Among his students are freshmen Stacey Olea and Amanda Lial, both violinists excited to be watching the other bands. In a Modesto High arrangement of Lion City, string players put aside their bows and thump a beat on their wooden instruments. The pair deemed the technique “really cool” and “awesome.”

Their own turn on stage was a first for the Beyer orchestra. “Playing in front of your peers is always nerve-wracking,” Amanda said. Her assessment: “better than expected.”

Gregori cellist Emjay Hanna said performing comes easy. “I always have fun when I play on stage,” she said. “These are not just my friends. They’re really family.”

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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