More Rhythms Play Out in Class

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Submitted by Schoolpower, Special to the Independent

1 strings Emily Roberts

A full orchestra can readily be envisioned in the sound of vibrating strings now playing in all four Laguna Beach public schools, where more music classes have been added this year to the curriculum.

On a recent morning, the bright hum of  “Deckorations” rises from 15 string players in a Thurston Middle School classroom. The musicians, many of whom picked up a string instrument for the first time in September, play with enthusiasm and confidence. Bows rise for one verse, drop as nimble fingers pluck the next, and rise again for the third.

Emily Roberts warms up. 


“I really want to hear the separation of down, up, up,” says teacher Jon Mann, calling for a bass solo and then for the violins and violas to play as he keeps the beat on an electric guitar. “Good!”

Besides the new middle school strings elective, a strings program is now available during the school day at both elementary schools.  Jeremy Chung, who teaches music at the high school, says that the addition of lower level strings classes is essential in building a strong orchestra.  “We have lacked a feeder program,” said Chung. “I am looking forward to the future of a strings program.”

Chung’s current string students, who are preparing for a winter concert open to the public on Tuesday, Dec. 17, practice demanding and complex songs like “Cavatina” by Antonin Dvorak. The musicians play with focus and precision, and their rendition is beautiful despite the fact that their strings section numbers six.

“Feeder programs are how athletic and academic programs excel,” said Steve Baker, a local producer of musical events and SchoolPower trustee. “When you develop the fundamentals, it provides a foundation and path, and provides a chance for kids to really excel.”

The additional music classes cost $131,000 a year. The district provides $81,000 annually and the SchoolPower Endowment has committed $150,000 over three years.

As well as string classes, a full-time teacher has been added at Thurston. Also a guitar and ukulele class and an AP music theory class are now offered at Laguna Beach High School.

Musicians such as Gwyneth Zimmerman, an eighth grader who has played the violin since elementary school, see the benefit of the added music classes. “It’s better to play with a lot of people,” she says. “You can see if you’re improving. And it’s a nice experience to play duets and songs in a group.”

Drake Fay now takes two music classes – concert band and strings – as his seventh grade electives. Fay, who began playing the piano in kindergarten and the trombone in fifth grade, signed up for the strings class to learn to play the bass. “I like the sound of a low instrument,” he says. “The bass has become one of my favorite instruments.”

Enthusiasm from middle school students is exactly what is needed to create a thriving orchestra, Baker said. “I see a flourishing strings program in the middle school, and an opportunity for the elementary kids to have a path all the way to the high school,” he said.

Back at Thurston, Mr. Mann listens as his strings class plays another song. “That is really good progress for a week,” he calls out over their rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” “One, two, three, lift on four. Good! Repeat!”

The concert is Tuesday, Dec.17 at 7 p.m. in The Artists’Theatre. A $5 per person or $10 per family donation is suggested.


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