ST. GEORGE — Some middle schoolers play sports. Others act in plays or draw. But these Washington County sixth-eighth graders are passionate about something entirely different: orchestra.
Eight Washington County intermediate school orchestra programs selected a handful of their best students to perform with a professional guest conductor in an Honors Orchestra concert at Vista School on March 19 and 20. More than 70 students spent two days learning and rehearsing seven pieces of music and then performed for their parents on Saturday evening.
The annual honors orchestra did not perform last year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, but returned this year to include Fossil Ridge Intermediate School, Lava Ridge Intermediate School, Sunrise Ridge Intermediate School, Vista School, Hurricane Intermediate School, Tonaquint Intermediate School, Enterprise Intermediate School and Washington Fields Intermediate.
Linda Ghidossi-DeLuca, orchestra director at Vista School, created the honors orchestra five years ago and said it is the only opportunity in the district for students this age to perform together with a guest conductor.
“In the bigger cities, they tend to have them more often because there’s more of a collective group of students who are interested. But here in Southern Utah, that’s rare,” she told St. George News. “It makes them better musicians, better people, because they have to listen to what’s around them and be kind of in a zone and they realize it’s not just about them anymore. The world is much bigger.”
Each school selected two of their best students from each section — first violin, second violin, viola, cello and bass — to participate in the honors orchestra. For two entire days, the orchestra did almost nothing other than play and study music. It was an exhausting two days, but in a good way, Washington Fields orchestra director Stephanie Snow told St. George News.
“They’ve just been excited to play with people that want to be here, and again, the harder repertoire excites them,” she said.
The orchestra was conducted by Lucas Darger, the music director and conductor of the Southwest Symphony in St. George. Darger has conducted orchestras across the country, including several youth orchestras similar to this one. He told St. George News that music education is vital because it gives kids an outlet and teaches them much more than the music. He added that while youth orchestras are common in bigger areas, to see this many skilled young musicians in a rural area is special.
“To have this many kids at this level, it’s really neat,” he said. “It speaks to the strength of our orchestra directors here at the different schools. They really do a lot with what they’re given.”
For the students, the honors orchestra outdid any ordinary day in orchestra class at school. The two-day honors orchestra gave them the opportunity to challenge themselves with more difficult music, meet other kids who shared their interest in classical music and show off a bit at the end of the weekend. Sophia Fowler, a seventh grader from Fossil Ridge who played second violin, told St. George News that she was excited for her parents to see her play in the concert.
“This is one of the times when they get to see me playing songs,” she said. “My favorite part is listening to the music, cause it’s better with everyone than with our own group. We play slow, so it doesn’t sound that great, but with the rest, it just sounds better.”
A handful of viola students were able to audition for a solo in one of the pieces, “Viola Concerto in GM, 2nd Mvt. Allegro” by Georg Philipp Telemann. The winner was Tyler Walter, an eighth grader from Vista School. Not many people play the viola, Walter said, so when he joined orchestra in fourth grade he decided to give it a try and has been playing ever since. Having a solo was intimidating, he added, but exciting.
“I get to be the soloist with a bunch of people from different schools, and I’ve never done that before,” he told St. George News. “It’s fun and you get to meet new people.”
When the students return to school on Monday, they’ll be able to tell their friends about everything they learned, and DeLuca hopes they will inspire more kids from around the district to play music and maybe one day join the honors orchestra.
“I want parents to know that putting their children into a strings program is the best thing they could ever do for educating the entire child,” DeLuca said. “Music encompasses everything. It’s math, science, it’s motor skills, separating the coordination of the right hand with the left arm. That kind of skill they use is for everything in life.”
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