FHS Symphony Orchestra developing lifelong skills
The latest buzz phrase in education is “21st century skills.”
How can we produce citizens and employees who can problem solve, communicate, collaborate and think creatively? It’s a challenging task, especially today, when children and teens spend an inordinate amount of time playing video games, buried in their digital devices—activities that don’t exactly lend themselves to personal growth.
While often minimized or overlooked in favor of the latest educational fad, music education has been developing 21st century skills for decades. In fact, numerous research studies have shown that students who play a musical instrument not only excel in academics, they excel in life.
Hancock County’s orchestra program
About 250 students in Findlay City Schools are developing lifelong skills every day by participating in the district’s orchestra program. Findlay is the only school district in Hancock County that offers an orchestra program.
String instruments—violin, viola, cello and bass—are the most challenging instruments to learn because of the fine motor skills and ear training involved. “It’s commonly referred to as a ‘whole brain’ activity because research has shown that it simultaneously engages almost every part of the brain—auditory, visual and motor,” says Ken Pressel, orchestra director at Glenwood Middle School and Findlay High School.
Students can join orchestra in the 6th grade as beginners, refine their skills in 7th and 8th grade, and participate in the Findlay High School Symphony Orchestra until graduation. They play a wide-repertoire of music with three to five concerts a year, make lifelong friends and are exposed to cultural enrichment opportunities.
Gabi Gazette, concertmaster of the FHS Symphony Orchestra this year, started playing violin at age three. She open-enrolled at Findlay her freshman year so she could be in the orchestra. She says she’s developed leadership skills, confidence and determination. “The violin is a beautiful instrument and it is so fun, yet also challenging, to play,” she said. “When I finally get something down, I feel really content with myself, even if it’s a small accomplishment. There’s always something to work on and figure out.”
Jared Fleckner plays string bass and is president of the FHS Symphony Orchestra this year. He joined the orchestra program in the 4th grade, inspired by his older sister who was also in orchestra. “Just playing one instrument opened the doorway to many different groups,” he said. “I have played string bass, bass guitar or upright electric base for drumline, the FHS musical, show choir, jazz band and open mic nights at Coffee Amici.”
According to Fleckner, he’s developed leadership skills and learned how to communicate with his peers and adults because of orchestra. “But the thing I enjoy the most is the sense of community and the fun we have,” he said.
A family affair
For many Findlay families, participating in orchestra is a tradition. This school year, there are 15 families that have more than one child in orchestra.
Mousa and Angela AlAhmad have six children and they’ve all played violin in Findlay’s orchestra program. Currently, the couple’s two youngest children—Ammar and Sameerah—play in the FHS Symphony Orchestra. “Through the years, orchestra has been a tradition for my family. We look forward to going to performances and hearing the students progress from squeaky beginners to beautiful musicians. It’s been a joy for my husband and I to watch, listen and to see them grow while playing in orchestra. It’s also increased our love of music,” said Angela.
All three children of Dr. Michael and Jenne Cairns have participated in the orchestra program. Their son, Sam, is a 6th grader at Glenwood learning the cello, and their daughter, Emily, who graduated from the FHS Orchestra last spring, is now playing cello at The Ohio State University, with a minor in music.
Jenne notes that playing in the orchestra provides students with seven years of growth. “I absolutely believe music education is integral to the success of students as human beings. Not only is it necessary to examine how music shapes our culture, and other cultures throughout the world, but learning an instrument builds important life skills such as patience, self-motivation and confidence,” she said.
“The orchestra program at FCS is truly one of the gems of the school system. I really can’t think of a program in the schools that has made more of an impact on our family than the orchestra program.”
This spring, it’s all about the strings.
The orchestra program prides itself on producing outstanding concerts at every level. “The concerts showcase the talent of our students,” says Pressel. “We work hard to prepare concerts that the audience will enjoy and appreciate.”
This spring, the orchestra program has two special programs planned. The 7th and 8th grade orchestra students at Glenwood and Donnell are collaborating with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra (TSO). TSO musicians will visit the schools four times this spring to work with the students in small groups. They will then join the students for a rehearsal, dinner and side-by-side concert on Thursday, May 9, at 7 pm, at the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts. The TSO mentorship program is being funded by Marathon Petroleum, the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation and the Findlay Music Boosters.
Also in May, the FHS Symphony Orchestra will be performing a special concert with guest pianist Scott Lavender. The group will perform George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”—one of the most iconic jazz/classical compositions by a 20th century American composer. Lavender is the pianist and orchestra conductor for the legendary singer Johnny Mathis and has conducted orchestras around the world, including the National Symphony, Atlanta Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Several other professional musicians as well as members of the Ohio Northern University Symphony will join the FHS Symphony on stage. This concert will take place on Monday, May 13, at 7:30pm in the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts.
For information on the orchestra program, visit orchestra.fcs.org and “Findlay City Schools Orchestra” on Facebook.