Despite the snowy, icy weather that closed schools on Monday and caused such a bad accident on Route 1 that the Unionville Chadds Ford School District had to close again on Tuesday, the District 12 7/8 StringFest went off without a hitch!
Patton was represented by two 7th grade violinists, three 8th grade violists, and an 8th grade cellist in the 100-piece orchestra of students from 22 local schools. The families of these students were in for a real treat with this StringFest because the rehearsals and performance were held in the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center — part of Upper Darby High School. This is a huge space with stadium-style seating which allows the audience a fantastic view of each and every musician. It was also nice for us teachers to be able to easily walk all around the orchestra as they rehearsed or sit up in the higher seats and keep an eye on the progress of our individual students.
The conductor for this event was Gary White of the Philadelphia Sinfonia who brought a lot of experience and an array of helpful string-specific suggestions to the podium. Though horn was his primary instrument, Mr. White’s time studying with Luis Biava at Temple University and later conducting the Pottstown Symphony instilled in him a passion for string music. His was an ambitious program, and my students from Patton worked hard for many weeks to prepare their parts. They performed:
- The Star Spangled Banner by John Stafford Smith arr. Paul Lavender
- Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by J.S. Bach arr. Merle Isaac
- Allegretto from Symphony No. 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven arr. Robert Longfield
- Farandole from L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2 by Georges Bizet arr. Merle Isaac
- Blue Grass Ball by Bruce Chase
- It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills arr. Robert Longfield
- New World Symphony from Symphony No. 9, Mvt IV by Antonin Dvorak arr. Deborah Baker Monday
Three students from Charles F. Patton Middle School performed in the District 12 StringFest this past Monday at E.T. Richardson Middle School under the direction of Miku Shiota-Rosenbaum. These three students came together with other 5th and 6th grade students from 30 schools in District 12, rehearsed for close to 7 hours, and performed a concert for parents and families Monday evening.
Miku is the conductor of Delaware County Young Musicians’ Orchestra, but I knew her as my stand partner during my brief involvement with the Delaware County Orchestra back in 2009. At that time, a former theory teacher of mine was conducting the Delaware County Orchestra and had recruited me to help fill out the first violin section for a few concerts that season. Miku played violin in the ensemble and also knew the conductor from college years, though she was primarily trained as a pianist.
Students prepared and performed the following works from Classical and Popular genres:
- Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen arr. Robert Longfield
- Adagio Cantabile from Pathetique Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven arr. Carrie Lane Gruselle
- Bésame Mucho by Consuelo Velazquez arr. James Kazik
- Shake it Off by Taylor Swift arr. Larry Moore
- Country Wedding from “The Moldau” by Bedrich Smetana arr. Sandra Dackow
- The Star-Spangled Banner by John Stafford Smith arr. Sandra Dackow
- Pizzicato Polka by Johann Strauss Jr. arr. Robert McCashin
- The London Symphony: Themes from Symphony No. 104, 1st Movement by Franz Joseph Haydn arr. Jeremy Woolstenhulme
I still feel new when it comes to the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association system, but I’m slowly beginning to understand the differences in procedures between these PMEA festivals and the NYSSMA festivals that I am more familiar with. PMEA District 12 serves students and music educators in Philadelphia, Chester, and Delaware Counties, which makes it sound a lot like NYSSMA Area All-State, but the selection process, competition, and resulting concerts are much more similar to the NY’s All-County orchestras. Selection for StringFest began in the late Fall with a teacher recommendation form, and everything was done online. The number of students invited per school depends on the string program enrollment at that particular school, and acceptance may have little to do with the student’s actual ability. Questions posed by the host director addressed topics ranging from a student’s comfort using vibrato and ability to adjust bowings to how responsible they are in school orchestra. Surprisingly, there were no questions about the type of solo study a student may be engaged in or statements about the level of mastery expected at the StringFest. I was very happy that the three students who represented Patton were also some of my strongest students in the 6th grade, but I worry that this PMEA selection system doesn’t encourage individual initiative and doesn’t promote healthy competition with the school programs. It also places a lot of weight on the teacher’s recommendation which has the potential to be quite subjective.