Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 30, 2007

Sounds of Gold

It was hard to believe that just minutes before, violins, violas, and cellos were taken from their cases and tuned, music stands were adjusted for proper height, sheets of music were shuffled into order and the young musicians were talking among themselves. But when the baton was raised, there was perfect silence. Every instrument was in position and the eyes of every one of those musicians were focused on the baton tip and the person holding it.

This was the beginning of the school tour for the Gold Orchestra, made up of nearly 75 fifth through 12th graders from area schools. The conductor was Kansas State University Professor David Littrell, recently named the 2007 Kansas Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Dr. Littrell introduced the pieces played and did a little teaching too, showing the elementary school audience the difference between violins and violas - violas are slightly larger and have lower tones - and introducing them to the much-larger cellos. He added there was another very important instrument in the orchestra - the baton - and illustrated how, with various movements of his baton, he could direct musicians to play softer, louder, faster, slower, smoother or with staccato notes.

This performance was at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School. Later that same day, there were performances at Junction City Middle School and Riley County Grade School. Then, that same evening, the orchestra performed at McCain Auditorium on the K-State campus.

Husband Art and I first heard the orchestra last year when a friend, whose daughter is a member, suggested we attend the annual concert. When we entered the auditorium, Art leaned over and said, "I wonder how hard on the ears this is going to be."

To our amazement, it was entirely enjoyable.

And taking in the performance couldn't have been timed better. Daughter Katie had begun dabbling with the violin several years before and began taking private lessons last year. But playing by herself wasn't much fun. So, after hearing the orchestra, we encouraged her to audition and she was accepted last May.

She immediately began to improve. And I am certain the difference was the way Dr. Littrell teaches. One of the first practices was at his home. He told the students everything involved in being in Gold Orchestra and what their responsibilities were. They, not their parents, were to remember to bring two pencils to each rehearsal. They, not their parents, were to remember to bring their music. They, not their parents, were to schedule time to practice. And they were required to attend every rehearsal. In short, each person, not someone else, was responsible for his or her progress.

But along with the rules, there was a sense of humor and a gentle hand, encouraging each person to do better. In just over two months, the group coalesced from a bunch of individuals to a finely-tuned orchestra.

When the practice sessions began, Katie complained about having to get up early on Saturdays and balked at the suggested practice times. But after just a few weeks, her assessment changed to, "It's worth it!"

And it has been worth it to us, too. The Gold Orchestra performed with the K-State Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 9 and again at their Rock Springs retreat in late October. One parent videotaped the Oct. 9 concert and put two selections on YouTube. I've listened to the YouTube videos at least 20 times and I still get goose bumps every time I hear the haunting strains of "Scottish Mist," one of the numbers in the group's repertoire.

We thank the Manhattan Arts Center where Katie was taught the fundamentals, Katie's teacher Laura Bradshaw and Dr. Littrell for their dedication to these young musicians. Their patience, love of music and passion for teaching are much appreciated.

2007 Index