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Music students gain regional reputation for ‘excellence’

April 17, 2013 · Updated 12:30 PM

The Orcas Island fifth to sixth grade and middle school string groups. / Kristen Wilson photo

If you have kept up with school music news for the past several months, then you know that the Orcas students are at the top of-their game, and representing our school well. They just added to that reputation with outstanding performances in Bellingham at the end of March.

For the third year in a row the High School Strings returned to the “Large Groups Orchestra Contest” at Western Washington University on March 27, where for the past two years they have taken home “superior” ratings.  This year they managed to outdo even that. Under the direction of Pamela Wright, the group scored a I-plus (or “superior-plus” rating), coming within half a point of the top score among 15 groups at the contest.

Take into consideration that Orcas Island was the only Class B school competing among 14 other AA or AAA schools, and that Orcas Island does not require an audition to perform in the group, versus other larger schools who do audition, and it’s even more impressive. Not to mention, the Orcas group was probably the only group of musicians who had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a school bus and head for the ferry.

The Large Groups Orchestra Contest is a little different from other contests in that the groups must come prepared to perform several pieces. They are then judged on their entire performance. Orcas High School performed Elegy Op. 58, by Edward Elgar, Pavane Op. 50 by Gabriel Faure and the fourth movement of Eine kleine Nachtmusik by W.A. Mozart. Some of the comments from the judges included, “Beautiful!”  “Your phrasing, dynamics and discipline are fabulous! Congratulations on such a fine group.” The members of Orcas High School Strings who competed in Bellingham were:  Emilia Carter, Brigid Ehrmantraut, Michael Harlow, Anthony Kaskurs, Wylie Kau, Juliette Mann, Enzo Thixton, Zach Waage and Paris Wilson.

The following day, the fifth to eighth grade string players and Wright headed to Whatcom Middle school in Bellingham for the San Juan Music Educators Association Junior Orchestra Festival. The young Orcas musicians were specifically invited to attend this festival after contest officials saw their performances at the junior solo and ensemble event a couple of months ago. The Orcas fifth and sixth grade group performed “Bolero” by Deborah Baker Monday and “Kutsu ga Naru,” a traditional Japanese song arranged by Robert Frost.

“I am very impressed,” said the judge. “You grabbed me from the very beginning because you played so well together. Beautiful ensemble.”

After noting that several of the musicians in the group are first-year string players, the judge commented, “You’re all very well-trained, and you’re on your way to becoming very good musicians.”

The group scored a I or “superior” rating. Members who performed were: Kupono Anuenue, Olivia Brunner-Gaydos, Lilia Greening, Alyssa Johns, Sydney Johnson, Amelia Kau, Ronan Kau, Nathan Smith and Paris Wilson.

The Orcas Middle School Strings performed “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead” by Harold Arlen and “Brandenburg No. 5,” by J.S. Bach.  The judge said they did a “great job” and awarded them a II-plus (or “excellent-plus ” rating.)  Members of their group were Michael Chesher, Joanne Mietzner, Olivia Smith, Hailee Stevens, Evan Tidrington and Emily Toombs.

After seeing the Orcas fifth to eighth graders perform, one of the judges recalled seeing the Orcas High School Strings perform the previous day and was clearly impressed by the impact of all the Orcas string players.

“You have something great going on there on Orcas,” she remarked with some amazement to the Orcas music director.  Then she began peppering Wright with questions about how the string program is set up.

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