In schools where there are strong band and jazz band programs, string teachers often find it difficult for their students to achieve the recognition they deserve for their unique performing groups. Sometimes string students feel that they do not have an identity because they lack a glitzy uniform, and often they feel that groups such as jazz bands have music that is more attractive to an audience because it is often upbeat and familiar. As string educators, it is our job to point out that the unique aspects of each music group will combine to make a strong and diverse music program. How can you establish the Orchestra’s identity? If you are not a string player, but have been given the responsibility of a string program, make it a point to take lessons on at least one stringed instrument as soon as you can, because demonstration is a key part of achieving success in the Orchestra.
Select music that will show the best of what your students can do. Be careful not to let what you (the director) would like to do come before what the students are capable of doing well. It is always best to pick something less challenging that can be done with a high degree of perfection than to pick a difficult piece that even the audience can sense students are struggling through. Selecting the correct music for your group is one of the most important things you can do for your program to succeed. Take a lot of time, do it carefully, and be willing to change your mind if once you try something it does not go as anticipated. If students are proud of what they are doing, their enthusiasm will be contagious.
Vary your program and include repertoire from many periods. Prove to your students that strings can play music from any period, and that there is more music written for strings than any other type of instrument. Your students will appreciate different periods in music history if you expose them to many. Be open to modern arrangements of some popular music for a more varied program, but be sure to mention that most other instrumental groups use transcriptions of orchestral pieces, because orchestra music has been in existence for centuries.
Find other Orchestra programs that you can establish a relationship with so that exchange concerts and combined programs can be done. In the end, the friendships that can be formed with this type of unique relationship will far outlast aspects of other performing groups that students my find attractive on the surface.
Encourage students to audition for outside groups such as your state MEA District Orchestra. Creating specific goals to work for and giving students experiences playing outside the school will help your own school program to thrive.
Invite clinicians and guest conductors to your school. Giving students a chance to experience a new face can often refresh your program and allow students to realize that there is a huge community of string teachers and players throughout the world.
Join MENC and ASTA to take advantage of the many things they offer you to build your program. Check out their advocacy links and publicize things such as the many bonuses playing strings will give your students: higher scores on the SATs, better grades in Math and English – to name just a few!
It is up to each individual Orchestra educator to show the passion they have for Orchestral literature. Through your example, along with some of the suggestions discussed here, the Orchestra can achieve its own identity and be an integral part of any school!
by MENC member Joyce Prichard, String Clinician, Director of Music and Fine Arts Chair, Villa Maria Academy High School, Malvern, PA.
Did you miss Part 1? Click here.
Nicole Springer, May 6, 2008. © National Association for Music Education