On any weekday, hundreds of middle school students can be heard playing anything from Mozart to Coldplay on something that isn’t their iPod.
In place of their musical devices, students are playing these songs by using the violin, viola, cello or bass in the orchestra program at the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District. Students practice daily with their instruments, and gradually learn proficiency by participating in sight-reading, concert rehearsal and solo and ensemble preparation. Band members are required to begin orchestra classes during their sixth grade year.
“It’s really fun,” said Kate Scaief, sixth grade student at Memorial Middle School. “My favorite part is that I get to play music with my friends, and I plan to continue playing the Violin when I go to high school.”
The over 400 students enrolled in the District’s musical program is a vast improvement from where the program was at five years ago. In just a few years, some teachers have seen their numbers almost triple.
“The program has grown quite a bit over the last few years,” said Nathaniel Darger, orchestra director at Coakley Middle School. “When I got here four years ago, there were about 30 kids in our program, and this year we have 140 enrolled.”
With their growth, the program has seen an increase in their success rate at orchestral competitions. Recently the middle schools took home a total of 59 chairs at the Region Orchestra Auditions on Oct. 20 and Oct. 22. Their presence was felt at the Region workshop, the schools made up a great number of students in the orchestra.
“The students we have a very dedicated and hard working,” said Karen Geigle, orchestra director at Vernon and Memorial Middle School. “All of our students are very intelligent, and we do have a lot in pre-ap courses. The students are in other activities as well, and have to balance everything.”
To keep the students on the path towards musical and academic success, directors are always on the lookout for techniques to increase learning capacity. They’ve even gone so far as to research the brain activity present when learning takes place. Taking their analysis into consideration, they’ve developed tactics such as musical set repetition and changing things in the physical environment.
Students are able to continue with the orchestra program until they graduate from high school. Directors aim to not only promote the continuation of orchestra in high school, but in college and various career options as well.
Earlier this year, the music department brought down the Wyeth String Quartet to play a special concert for HCISD orchestra students. With events like these, the goal is to raise awareness of the program so it can continue to flourish along with its students.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, and have seen great kids come in,” said Darger. “ Right now is about moving forward, and a big part of it is just placing an emphasis on the development of the program. It’s the quality of the program and making music.”