Washington County Public Schools all-county orchestra 'a fantastic opportunity'
The All-County Middle School Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Jan Wagner of Shenandoah University performed first Saturday night at North Hagerstown High School. (January 26, 2013)
Each year, teachers from Washington County Public Schools select middle- and high-school students for all-county orchestra based on merit, including quality and experience playing. Those chosen are responsible for learning and refining pieces frequently at a level beyond that which they normally play in school, she said.
They compete in seating auditions, then rehearse as a group two evenings, one school day and a Saturday morning. That evening, the pressure is on to perform before an audience of more than 800 under the direction of renowned guest conductors.
“The students get to work with different directors, they get exposure to different points of view and input,” said Gooding, orchestra director at E. Russell Hicks Middle School. “Plus, they get to play and collaborate with students from others schools and build bonds that sometimes last for years.”
Saturday evening, Elizabeth Schulze, music director and conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, served for the 10th year as guest conductor at Washington County Public Schools All County Middle and Senior High School Orchestra concert at North Hagerstown High School.
The high school group opened with Richard Wagner’s “March of the Meistersingers,” a piece from a lengthy opera Schulze described as “‘Lord of the Rings’ on musical steroids.” Dressed in a black pant suit, she led with majestic, graceful movements. At times, she seemed to be summoning the music from the students, opening her hands toward them, then drawing them toward herself as she gradually clenched her fists.
Schulze came to Hagerstown 13 years ago, and music was introduced back into schools at the elementary level 10 years ago, she said.
“I am incredibly pleased to be here,” Schulze told the crowd. “This orchestra started 10 years ago. How far we have come, as you can hear, and how far we want to keep going.”
Jan Wagner, a native of Venezuela and associate professor of music at Shenandoah University who has conducted worldwide, was guest conductor for the middle school orchestra.
Trelon Fuller, 17, of Hagerstown, sat in the school library with the high school group waiting for his turn to play during the middle school performance. Fuller, a senior cellist at North Hagerstown High School, wore headphones and listened to dubstep — a heavily bass-driven electronic dance music.
“I’m just keepin’ a clear head,” he said.
Fuller has participated in all-county all four years of high school. Though he sees himself as more of a dancer than a cellist, he said his refined orchestral skills have helped him get better at counting beats for dancing.
Arielle Holleran, 13, of Hagerstown, plays violin at E. Russell Hicks. She said playing with all county for the first time was “a great experience” that would “look good on a college resume.”
“Some of the music was difficult, but I learned a lot having a bunch of kids come together from different schools and playing,” she said. “It was very interesting that we could all come together and make music that sounded so beautiful. And in such a short time, too.”
Arielle’s mother, Judie Sierra, said it was amazing to hear her daughter play in such an accomplished orchestra.
“As a mother, my heart swells with pride,” Sierra said. “It’s such a fantastic opportunity for her to get to play with all these other kids under the direction of world-renowned conductors and sound so great. It’s good stuff.”