Taking notes

Music students benefit from collaboration with Detroit Symphony Orchestra

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published January 29, 2015

 Middle school band students play instruments in class earlier this month.

Middle school band students play instruments in class earlier this month.

Photos by April Lehmbeck

HARPER WOODS —  From the youngest students dreaming of someday performing with a big band or orchestra to the high school band students seeking inspiration for their own performances, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra recently spent time reaching out to students in the Harper Woods Schools.

It was a collaboration that culminated Jan. 7 with Detroit Symphony Orchestra performances in the Secondary School Auditorium.

The collaboration came about after a year of planning through band director and teacher Shannon Rogers, who met with representatives of the DSO in February 2014. The plan was to bring the orchestra into the schools in Harper Woods.

“Through conversation, they saw a real need to assist our district, since we do not offer any general music in our elementary schools or any other music courses besides band,” Rogers said in an email. “They felt our students could really use exposure to professional, live music. 

“Many of our students do not even know what orchestral music is and would never have the opportunity to hear such a group,” she said. “Our partnership began shortly after that dinner meeting, with several meetings, visits, and tons of emails and phone calls throughout the past year to develop a plan leading up to the big event.”

Prior to the big DSO orchestra performances, musicians from the DSO visited a few of the classrooms at Beacon, a string quartet came to Tyrone Elementary and the middle school to perform, and the high school enjoyed a percussion ensemble performance.

“We also had a percussionist come into my high school band class a couple days to work with my percussionists,” Rogers said.

During the full performance of the orchestra at the school, it performed some classical music but also more modern tunes, including closing the concert with music from “Star Wars.”

Rogers hopes the students take something valuable from the experience.

“My hope was that our students were exposed to music that they may have never heard before and that they liked some of it,” she said. “I hope they appreciated all the work that goes into performing live and that they were excited, energized and moved by the quality and performance of the wonderful literature that was played for us. 

“I hope my band students realized what ‘quality’ is in a performance and that it takes a lot of dedication and hard work to achieve that sound,” she added. “But I also hope they feel it is a worthwhile experience.”

Superintendent Todd Biederwolf was excited about the DSO collaboration. He said the district appreciates the commitment of the DSO to travel to the school for the performances.

“It was a great day here in the Woods,” he said. “Our kids dressed to impress. They looked sharp. The star of Harper Woods was shining … brightly that day.

“Often, learning is about stretching your scope of experiences,” he said in an email. “Harper Woods Schools is committed to providing our students a wide array of experiential opportunities so they can better envision the opportunities they might pursue or support as adults.” 

Tyrone Elementary School Principal Cheryl Puzdrakiewicz commented on the experience during a recent school board meeting.

“It really was a great event for our kids,” she said.

The students appreciated the experience.

High school junior Jayda Dover, first chair flute player in the high school band who also plays piccolo in the marching band, said that while she’s seen the DSO perform several times at Orchestra Hall, the Harper Woods performance was special to her since it was at her high school.

“I thought their song selection was awesome,” she said in an email. “A lot of kids in the audience could say, ‘Oh! I know that song!’ …  I heard every section very clear. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has a balance that no other orchestra can compare to.

“I also felt a special connection with the flutist,” she said. “I attend (the Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s) Avanti (Summer) MusicFest every summer, and I had the pleasure of working with Jeff Zook, Sharon Sparrow and David Buck. Experiences and opportunities like these don’t happen often, and because of this, I am grateful to be a student at Harper Woods High School and to be a part of these special events.”

During a recent middle school band class, a few of the students spoke about their love of playing and the experience with the DSO.

“It was a great experience,” eighth-grade student Darryl Rambus said, adding that he learned a lot from it.

Eighth-grader Joshua Golson talked about how his love of instrumental music started with a drum set at age 8 and grew from there. He also was inspired by the performance.

“I really liked it,” added eighth-grade student Carolyn Hall. “Because I’m in band, it was nice seeing someone do it as a career.”

She liked seeing “their style and how they play, and how professional they are.”

“I feel like it made me want to practice more and get better at what I’m doing,” she said.

Because the DSO usually selects one school each year to partner with, the district probably won’t be exposed to another full orchestra performance at the school again soon.

“They have, however, told us they hope to keep working with us in some capacity,” Rogers said. “They felt we were great hosts, easy to communicate with, and our students were wonderful.  So we hope to continue working with them in the future.”