Mequon-Thiensville School District Orchestra Festival XV
Each winter, all orchestra students grades 4-12 come together in the Homestead Field House for our annual Orchestra Festival. At this performance, each group performs a few selections, and the concert culminates with a ‘grand finale’ performed by all orchestra students in the district. This event showcases the skills and knowledge progress students achieve through ongoing participation in this academic fine arts program, and also reminds older students and their families how much they have learned over the years. It is also spectacular, in that the combined orchestra literally fills the Field House space, with a capacity audience sitting in the bleachers. The M-T Orchestra Program is one of the largest and strongest in the state, and is the largest elective or co-curricular organization in the entire district.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic obviously made an in-person gathering of musicians and families impossible. As a reaction, the orchestra staff shifted to a virtual version of this event.
Homestead musicians recorded performances in the auditorium in socially-safe class-sized ensembles. Distance learners recorded their work at home during our special recording sessions, and their participation was also included with the in-person musicians. For this performance, the Homestead Orchestra students also collaborated with percussion members of the Homestead Bands, and also the Tartan and Treble choirs. These performances were then edited and audio-mixed by DV Productions, Milwaukee, to achieve the sound and appearance of much larger combined orchestras.
The middle and elementary school students were not able to have any in-person sessions. Instead, they used the music app UpBeat to record aligned performances of their music safely at home. The app, together with some editing by MT Orchestra staff Megan Aswegan, Kirsten Ertl, and Janet Dixon, created authentic ensemble performances which included all students grades 4-8, even though they never actually played together with each other. These video segments were then included with combined repertoire performed by the Homestead players, again with the expertise of DV Productions. Students also recorded spoken introductions of their repertoire. Superintendent Dr. Matt Joynt also prepared a welcome message, and the orchestra staff filmed a brief conversation segment where they discussed how this experience has felt to their students.
We are very proud of the orchestra musicians’ positive approach to learning in the pandemic, and also their resiliency in managing all of the changes to instruction and virtually all other aspects of their lives this past year. The results of our virtual orchestra festival provide strong evidence that our students have been working hard and learning this year, despite the difficult and changing circumstances mandated by COVID-19. It was also very exciting to collaborate with members of the Homestead Bands and Choirs in this project. We are all eager to return to a more traditional learning experience for students in the future. But we are very proud of our students work this winter.
385 student musicians participated in the 2021 Orchestra Festival, Including our band and choir participants and all orchestra distance learners. We opened the concert with a combined performance of “The Star Spangled Banner”. The one-hour concert concludes with a festival performance of Reinhold Gliere’s “Russian Sailor’s Dance”, also including all orchestra students grades 4-12. Other repertoire includes selections from “Les Miserables”, with senior vocalist Morgan Limbach performing “On My Own” and the Homestead Choirs joining the Homestead orchestra on “Do You Hear the People Sing”. Rossini’s “Overture to The Barber of Seville” is a rousing and familiar work performed by the Homestead Symphony Orchestra. The elementary students shared “America the Beautiful”, “Rocket March”, and other works for young string groups. The middle school musicians performed Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9” St. Saens’ “March Militaire”, and music by John Williams, as well as other selections.
Funding for this performance was provided by donations to the MT Orchestra Parents, Inc., our parent support and advocacy organization. Additional funding was provided by MT administration and our school budgets.
The Orchestra Festival XV Concert will be posted for viewing on YouTube on Wednesday, April 14 at 7 pm. Family, friends, and the MT Community are warmly invited to enjoy this entertaining, inspiring, and fast-paced 60-minute special video performance any time after it goes ‘live’! Here is a link to this video:
With best regards,
Homestead Orchestra Director