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Playing 'side by side'

In 2006, District 833's orchestra program started with 250 fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Four years later the program has grown to 750 fourth- through eighth-grade students, and continues to grow.

Next fall, for the first time ever, District 833 high schools will offer orchestra.

"It's going to be very exciting that this small group of students who originally started in this program will enter the high school for the first time next year," said Nancy Wiessner, District 833 fine arts coordinator.

The community will come together to celebrate the orchestra program on Feb. 28 on the Loft Stage at East Ridge High School when orchestra students from all four middle schools join on stage with the East Metro Symphony Orchestra for the "Side-By-Side" performance.

"I don't think anything has been done like this before where you have a community group sitting right next to young students -- it's almost like a mentoring situation," Wiessner said. "Hopefully it gives those middle school students an idea of what it could someday be like for them."

Wiessner said the birth of the orchestra program, and its success, was thanks in large part to the parents' support.

"The orchestra really expands the opportunity for students to be in music," she said. "Parents also recognize that playing an orchestra instrument really does test the mind."

Wiessner said learning how to play an instrument challenges students to think in intricate ways, teaching students self-discipline, note-reading, decoding, articulation, processing and interpretation.

"Playing a musical instrument really enhances the brain power of that student -- it gets them digging deep," she said.

Right now, the district has five orchestra teachers who travel between all of the schools.

The conductor of the East Metro Symphony Orchestra came up with the idea of playing together as a way to create a partnership with the Loft Stage, but include the school community.

During the performance, each middle school will perform an individual piece, and then the entire group will come together with the symphony orchestra to perform "Slavonic Legend."

Lake Middle School and Cottage Grove Middle School orchestra teacher Allison Johnson said that playing with a full symphony orchestra is a great benefit to the students because it gives them a taste of what their futures in music can be.

"We're teaching the kids that this is a lifelong skill, even if you don't become a professional musician or music teacher -- there are other outlets where you can perform," she said. "We're kind of giving these students a preview of what's to come."

Wiessner said she hopes this concert will become an annual tradition, and that the orchestra continues to grow.

"It's hard to say what a student will feel, but I would guess that this will be a memory that they will take with them," she said.

If you go

The "Side by Side" performance is scheduled at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Loft Stage at East Ridge High School in Woodbury. Admission is free. For details, go to

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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