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Orchestra festival showcases students’ musical development

If you go:

The fifth annual District 833 Orchestra Festival is 4 p.m. April 15th at Woodbury High School, 2665 Woodlane Drive. A donation of $6 per family is suggested. For more information, visit http://www.sowashco.k12.mn.us/academics/teaching-and-learning-services/curriculum/orchestra

WOODBURY — South Washington County Schools is fortunate to have a districtwide orchestra program, Breanna Casper said. And not just because it gives her gainful employment as orchestra director at Oltman and Woodbury middle schools.

Casper, who plays the violin, had no school orchestra program when she was growing up.

"I did some community orchestras when I was in high school," she said.

Casper will conduct the combined eighth-grade string ensembles orchestras at the annual District Orchestra Festival. Sunday's showcase, which begins at 4 p.m. at Woodbury High School, will feature student musicians from every elementary, middle and high school in the district, including grades 5 and 8-12. More than 450 students from all grades will join forces for the finale, which is "Yes, I Can Can!" by Jacques Offenbach.

The concert concludes with a performance by the 450 players from all the schools. Casper wasn't around in 2006 when the program debuted in the district's 14 elementary schools. Fourth- and fifth-graders were invited to pick up a violin, cello or other stringed instrument. The District 833 School Board, working with then-Superintendent Tom Nelson, approved capital funds to purchase cellos, violas and bass fiddles. They were rented or loaned to fourth- and fifth-grade students based on financial need. Other students already owned their instruments or rented them from local music stores.

The orchestra program was offered in a higher grade each year, reaching the high-school level in 2010.

More than a decade later, the orchestra program has grown to include over 1,500 students, Casper said.

That's no small feat given ubiquity of social media and other demand's on a students' attention.

"It's a balance of finding the right music that students will really learn from and also finding music that they'll enjoy playing," she said. She also credits the continuing support of the district's parents, teachers and administrators.

The eighth-grade orchestra will play "America the Beautiful" and the fifth-grade orchestra will play songs from "Essential Elements 2000 Book 1," a practice book for beginning string players.

Why fifth and eighth grades?

"Fifth grade is their last year in elementary school," Casper said. "Eighth grade is their last year in middle school. It's kind of to show the progression they make if they stay with the program."

The high school orchestras will play the finale from "Symphony No. 5" by Dimitri Shostakovich, and "October" by Eric Whitacre.

"Ideally, we'd like to have a giant festival with all orchestra students," Casper said. "There's no space big enough to fit them all."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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