The orchestra program at Camas High School… wait, when did that happen? New this year at CHS is a string orchestra class, and it is being taught by the band director Richard Mancini.
In the previous two years orchestra was limited to an after-school club, headed by Sophia Hansen and Angela Xu. Sophia states, “I started my own club along with my friend Angela, we were co-founders, and we played in that freshman, sophomore, and junior year. Eventually, we got a petition together with 15 signatures from students who said they would take a class if it was offered–and they already knew how to play a string instrument… We also did a lot of publicity, we played at the open house, and the CEF fundraiser, as well as a bunch of other Camas School District events in hopes that they would notice our club– That there were enough want and need for an orchestra…” With growing interest in the community, it became evident that a full class might be worthwhile. That interest, combined with the set of seniors who pushed for the class, lead to its addition this year.
Regarding the change to a class, Xu states, “As a class, we’re definitely more organized and we’re able to be exposed to more people through concerts and activities. While we were a club there wasn’t much school involvement, so as a class we can do a lot more.”
Currently, the class is geared towards students who already have prior experience with their instrument (violin, viola, cello, and bass). Instruments also have to be provided by the students. For those interested in joining, they might be able to sign up for the class next semester (barring any schedule conflicts with second period). Hansen also spends time after school to tutor orchestra members who are new to higher level music. It is in hope that they will be able to keep it running once the seniors are gone.
For anyone in the community who would like to support string orchestra, the best thing people can do is see the performances. Mr. Mancini says, “supporting musicians means going to concerts and listening to all the work kids have put in… I mean these are the biggest teams we have, nobody’s on the bench, everybody’s singing or playing for the whole thing.”. Some of the more advanced students have already been playing around the community in quartets. String orchestra as a whole performs their pieces along with the choir at the fall concert (Tuesday, October 16th). For the winter concert, they will perform again with the choir, playing Vivaldi’s Gloria, a large scale piece.
One of the great effects of having a class is the integration with the choir. In regards to orchestra, choir director Mr.Chessin states: “What’s exciting to me as a music teacher is that, now that we have orchestra at CHS, it helps to break down the idea that ‘people who play string instruments already go into various other orchestras’, and that only the ‘haves’ have orchestra. On top of that, it’s a multiplier effect. We can now perform pieces that include various combinations of instruments and vocals — the sky’s the limit.” Mr. Chessin also stated his enthusiasm for performing Vivaldi’s Gloria with the orchestra.
Along the same lines, Mr.Mancini states: “Band — you know small little groups like a brass quartet can accompany a choir, but band instruments are very loud, so strings are used a lot more to accompany the choir.”
A hope that comes along with having string orchestra at the high school level is the possibility of building a full k-12 orchestra program, or something along the lines of the current band program. This would help a great deal with expanding the choices students have. Allowing them to learn and experience both an instrument and type of music they might glance over or lose interest in otherwise. Angela Xu states, “I’m so excited to see where this goes, because as a string program at camas we can definitely expand. First with more people joining, and also expanding to middle schools or even elementary schools, which is what other districts are doing. It’s really nice to bring music to more people.”
Another set of benefits is the ability for students to audition for all-state and all-northwest orchestras and be eligible for district and state solo competitions. It also allows for greater accessibility of string players for theater productions.
Overall, string orchestra is a great addition to the CHS arts. Even more so, thanks to the hard work and dedication of numerous talented student musicians, the future of the program is something everyone can look forward to.