“Music is really just my happy place,” said Newport High senior Alex Shang, who plays violin in Newport’s Chamber Orchestra. “You don’t need to talk, you don’t need to do anything. You just need to put in some work and then let the music flow through you.”
Shang’s perspective also resonated with other students in Tyee Middle School’s Advanced Orchestra and Newport’s Chamber Orchestra; both groups were selected to perform at the Washington Music Educators Association (WMEA) in Yakima.
Experience at WMEA
Each school had the opportunity to perform a few pieces at WMEA, and then listen to one another, in addition to hearing Central Washington University’s Symphony Orchestra.
“We got to feel what it’s like to perform in an expert audience because they were mostly musicians also,” said eighth grader Russell Sam. “We got to listen to other orchestras which was really nice because we can see how they perfect their own music and how they copy the style of different composers.”
Tyee and Newport students were equally impressed with each other’s performances.
Senior Nora Kabbani said, “It was awesome to see Tyee Middle School play before us. They were extremely good. It kind of made me nervous because we had to follow them.”
After watching Newport’s performance, eighth grader Sophia Schiffer was excited for her own future in orchestra. “For me, it’s just like wow, this is high school and they are already looking professional. I’m really looking forward to high school orchestra!”
Eighth grader Jared Mar was inspired by the experience. He said “Other groups play and you are just mesmerized and amazed at what people can put together. If shows what you can do when you’re at Newport, or even further in college. It shows what you can become just by playing these instruments.”
Performing at the WMEA was not only a memorable experience for students, but for Newport and Tyee’s conductors as well.
“It is wonderful to work with students who show such dedication and passion for what they do,” said Tyee conductor David Drassal. “They truly are the leaders of tomorrow and I am excited to watch them as they progress through high school and beyond.”
Newport conductor, Christine Gero agreed with Drassal, and said “To play in front of an audience of the greatest musicians and music educators in the state of Washington was a tremendous honor.”
In the weeks following the WMEA, both Tyee and Newport each had another big performance. Tyee performed at the Western Washington University Orchestra Festival, and Newport performed at the Lincoln Center in New York City, where they took home the National Orchestra Cup.
In Advanced Orchestra at Tyee, students spend time understanding how sound is produced and transmitted. They also learn about wavelengths and how those impact intonation of music.
Tyee’s orchestra program has three cycles in the year. The first focuses on the fundamentals of good string playing, with students focusing on posture, instrument and bow holds, and sound production. The second cycle is aimed at performance and ensemble skills. Lastly, the students focus on chamber music, which is music written for small groups of two to four musicians.
Mar has learned that “the music isn’t really a limiter to what you can do, it’s really a guide to what you can play.”
The skills Tyee musicians are learning in their cycles is what Newport is implementing and perfecting in Chamber Orchestra.
Chamber Orchestra is an auditioned group for students in grades 10-12 who have had at least one year in one of Newport’s other orchestra groups, Newport Strings, and Sinfonia. Chamber Orchestra combines the top winds, brass and percussion to create the school’s new symphony group, the Newport Philharmonic.
“Now it’s really about a lot of balancing and just being together in our interpretations. What Ms. Gero has really emphasized and what I think has really helped us grow in our musicality is listening a lot because each of our interpretations of the pieces may be really different,” said Shang. “We may have the technical ability to carry out our personal interpretations, but as an orchestra the most important part is having one interpretation for the orchestra and really bringing that sound out.”
Benefits Beyond the Stage
Students and teachers alike see the additional benefits of orchestra ranging from relaxation to the lifelong friendships.
“I have a passion for playing violin,” said Schiffer. “I like that I can just take a break from sitting in class and taking notes.”
Classmate Sam shared a similar affinity and said, “When I play music I relax. I become stress free and I don’t have to worry about other things. I just get to have fun.”
Many of the students in both Tyee and Newport’s orchestras said their favorite part of orchestra is the friends they’ve made. Students from all grade levels and different programs make up the orchestra.
Drassal also sees the impact of friendships that are made in orchestra.
“The orchestra offers students a group to belong to that they stay with through middle and high school, he said. “They experience much of their school life together as a group in orchestra.”