SmartMusic Helps 600 Orchestra Students Prepare

Richard Meyer rehearsing for the Robbinsdale (MN) School District’s Spring Orchestra Festival

On Saturday, March 12, 2011, 600 orchestra students, in grades 4-12, performed together under the direction of composer Richard Meyer.

As someone who finds it challenging getting his two preschoolers into their respective car seats, the above photo fills me with a sense of awe. I recently spoke with orchestra director Jeanne Kauffmann about how it all came about:

The idea for this festival was first hatched at the 2009 Texas Orchestra Directors Association convention in San Antonio. A middle school teacher from California told me what a wonderful experience her students had in a clinic with Richard Meyer. Since my students have loved performing his compositions, I decided to pursue the possibility of having Richard conduct our annual spring orchestra festival.

In the off-chance that someone reading this is unfamiliar with Richard, I should say that he is a nationally recognized, best-selling composer with more than 130 compositions and arrangements in print. He is a sought-after clinician, a string editor at Alfred Publishing, and the coauthor of several string method books, including the popular “String Explorer” Series, and, most recently, “Sight-read It for Strings.”

When Jeanne contacted Richard in the spring of 2010 he agreed to conduct the clinic. As Richard lives in Arcadia, California, we can only assume Jeanne downplayed the fact that the clinic would occur in Minnesota in March.

Because of the enthusiasm Jeanne’s students had shown Richard’s music in the past, it was easy to create a program for the event made up primarily of Richard’s compositions. A complete list of what pieces each group performed can be found in the event program.

Jeanne describes Richard’s visit below:

Richard arrived on Friday, March 11 to conduct separate clinics with the Robbinsdale Middle School and Plymouth Middle School during the school day, and a combined clinic with our two high schools, Armstrong and Cooper, on Friday afternoon. The middle school students absolutely loved the clinics and many asked for autographs.

I was impressed that 60 students came in after school on a Friday afternoon to work with Richard for 90 minutes – playing his works and participating in a Q and A regarding his inspiration and compositional process. Many students cited specific compositions of Richard’s that were personal favorites, and a few asked about his involvement with SmartMusic.

The day of the festival we set up 600 chairs, each with a post-it note bearing a student’s name. They arrived at 1:15 in shifts and started rehearsing at 2:00 until 5:00. The rehearsal went so well that Richard was done with the elementary students a half-hour early, simply because they knew their music so well from rehearsing with the string accompaniments in SmartMusic.

We were totally dumbfounded! This event always seems to run out of time, especially with the elementary students.

The high school rehearsal was wonderful as well. Richard had developed a relationship with many students since they had attended his clinic the day before.

The concert was a huge success. Before each piece, Richard discussed its inspiration with the audience and students. The finale, a Sandra Dackow arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Trepak, was performed by all 600 students (the elementary parts were written in Finale and saved as SmartMusic accompaniments for elementary rehearsal). Even Richard was impressed with the size of the event and the quality of the performance.

Many parents have commented that this was the best festival we have ever had, and what an amazing experience it was for our students to work with Richard. We are thrilled with the results and with the wonderful opportunity our students enjoyed. Almost immediately we began to wonder: What can we do to follow this?

I’d like to thank Jeanne for her great work and for sharing the story and the amazing photo with us.

Jeanne Kauffmann has more than 22 years experience as a music educator. She has taught at every level from beginning strings to college chamber orchestras. She is currently an elementary orchestra director in the Robbinsdale School District. A long-time supporter of SmartMusic, Jeanne can be seen sharing her thoughts on getting started with SmartMusic in this YouTube video.

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