Students & Music
Shining a Light in Orchestral Education
Writer / Johnette Cruz
The presence of extracurricular activities in the Center Grove School System has given the opportunity for students to flourish in an array of areas — and participating in the orchestra is no different. Classes started for the middle schools in 1992 and the high school joined along in 1995. The orchestra journey can start for a student in the sixth grade when they begin learning to play the violin, viola, cello or bass. As students advance their skills, music difficulty increases. Over 260 students participate in the orchestra program. Classes are offered by grade level in the middle schools. Currently Center Grove High School has two orchestras, philharmonic which is intermediate and symphonic for upper level students.
Two people who are heavily involved within the program are Mitch Phillips, the President of the Center Grove Orchestra Council, and Sarah Belt, Director of Orchestras at all campuses. “The Orchestra Council is here to support the directors and help make our children’s experience in the orchestra the best it can be,” said Phillips. “This primarily means being involved in support activities for the concerts and fundraising.”
Belt oversees all orchestra programs within the Center Grove School System. Belt left Perry Meridian Middle School to have the opportunity teach orchestra at all levels; she also wanted to assist in growing the Center Grove orchestra program. Belt thoroughly enjoys working with children in the program along with the staff. “Everyone has welcomed me with open arms into their department as we all have the same vision for the future of the orchestra program at Center Grove,” she said. “I think the biggest impact this program has had is on families that have chosen and continued to be a part of the orchestra program.”
Two major events are scheduled for early December, The Corelli Christmas Concerto December 6 and the Winter Gala December 10. The Symphonic Orchestra from Center Grove High School will perform the Corelli Christmas Concerto at Resurrection Lutheran Church. Phillips describes the event briefly, “It was composed around 1690 and Piano Solutions loaned us a digital harpsichord to the orchestra for the concert.”
Belt expects the audience will have an enjoyable evening adding, “The concerto was scored for an ensemble consisting of two concertino violins and cello, ripieno strings and continuo (harpsichord). The musical evening concludes with the audience joining the orchestra, organist and bell choir along with singing traditional Christmas carols.”
The orchestra family will also gather for their Winter Gala December 10. Belt said that this gala is the largest event for the orchestra during the school year. “The evening includes a concert with performances from various students in all grade levels in the orchestra, along with the Center Grove High School Philharmonic and Symphonic Orchestra. In addition to the wonderful holiday music, there will be a silent auction with items donated from local vendors and businesses. All or a portion of the proceeds will return to the Center Grove Orchestra Council.”
The arts have an important place when it comes to the structure and learning of the students that attend Center Grove, and Belt can attest to that. “Center Grove Middle School North and Middle School Central both require all of their sixth grade students to enroll in band, choir or orchestra. I believe that this shows that music is a valued part of the curriculum and that all students need exposure to it,” says Belt.
Phillips also recognizes how valuable this organization is to the children. “I think it is important for students to be exposed to a wide range of experiences — we need to provide opportunities for them to find their passion in life. For some it is music — be it strings, band or voice — for others, its athletics, robotics, drama or creative writing. It is these things outside the classroom that help produce well-rounded individuals,” explains Phillips.
Throughout the year students who participate in the orchestra program at Center Grove not only get the chance to perform at various venues, but they also get to compete at the highest level in the Indiana State School Music Association as both solo and ensemble entries. In addition, there have been some students selected for the Indianapolis Symphony’s “Side by Side” program.
The discipline is hard but the work pays off. Phillips loves to see the looks on the faces of students as they perform pieces they have worked so hard at and then hear the audience’s reaction. “It really is amazing to hear the progression of ability at the Winter Gala as we move from the youngest orchestras up through the Philharmonic and Symphonic Orchestras.” The benefit I receive from being a part of this organization is seeing the look on the student’s faces as they realize they have just made some great music — then the look of pride on their parents’ faces.”
The art community continues to grow in Center Grove on all levels. Last month the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra kicked off the 317 Series at Center Grove High School, bringing the ISO’s concerts and programs to the greater Greenwood area and other surrounding communities. The ISO wants to enhance the concert experience by partnering with local schools such as Center Grove for music and adult education programs and recitals to the area. The 317 Series includes concerts and features performances of masterworks by Barber, Copland, Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov, among others, with world-renowned guest artists. This series will continue into 2015 with the next stop in February at Mount Pleasant Christian Church.