STRING THEORY: Orchestra event immerses kids in music
This one is definitely not your grandpa’s orchestra concert.
The string orchestra students of the Indiana Area School District have a performance coming up Friday evening at the junior high auditorium that will present them in an electrifying new way.
The show will culminate a day of residency at the schools by Pittsburgh-based quartet Cello Fury, a group known regionally for their modern blend of driving, rock-style orchestra music.
After holding workshops Friday morning with the senior high orchestra and in the afternoon with the junior high orchestra, Indiana’s student musicians will take the stage at 7 p.m. with Cello Fury for a free, public concert, “Indiana Orchestras Rock!”
[PHOTO: Cello Fury members include, from left, Ben Munoz, Nicole Myers and Simon Cummings. Not pictured is drummer David Throckmorton. (Submitted photo)]
The schools’ orchestra director, Julianne Laird, said more than 80 students from fourth through 12th grades will be in the show. The elementary and secondary string orchestras will perform their own arrangements of contemporary pieces and back up Cello Fury on some others. Cello Fury will finish the concert playing some of their original music.
In all, Laird said, it will be unlike any show seen before on the junior high stage.
“This will be our traditional classical orchestra performing music not traditionally done by a classical orchestra, which is what makes it so exciting,” Laird said.
Cello Fury’s visit to the Indiana schools has been in the works for months, and their educational workshops and concert appearance here are fully underwritten by fundraisers and donations in support of Indiana’s string music program.
The program also has relied on contributions to equip the orchestras with electric instruments and electric pickups to amplify the acoustic string instruments.
Laird said the Stanley Servinsky Memorial Fund has been a key contributor, and Beverly Mastalski, a string musician parent, has been a leader in local fundraising efforts on behalf of the orchestras.
“We value our string program and know that our community is the reason that it continues in this time of economic hardship,” Laird said.
And in recognition of that community support of Indiana’s student orchestras, Laird said the Friday night show is “a first-time project to give back to the Indiana area, by providing a concert that features our students with world-class professional string players who specialize in alternative styles of string playing.”
Not every public school offers a dedicated string music program. Outside of Indiana, others in the region are at least an hour’s drive away, Laird said.
Among the nearest is one at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School near Altoona, where music teacher and orchestra conductor Stephanie Everett — Laird’s sister — invited Cello Fury for a similar residency program and concert that has become an annual event in that district.
And while the string program at Indiana preserves and fosters the time-honored European classical music performance, Laird said the students don’t have to be confined to that style.
“As always, the foundation of an excellent string program is the traditional classical music, which we play on a daily basis in the district,” Laird said. “However, our commitment to being lifelong learners in a constantly changing global society opens up doors for us to explore new and different styles of playing.
“We see string performers every day on television and on the Internet playing various global styles, fiddling, and exploring a variety of ways to make beautiful music. We are working every day to expand our vision and offer a lifetime of music making to our students.”
The string music program is featured on the Indiana Area School District website at www.iasd.cc/orchestra.
Cello Fury’s “original music combines the emotive and symphonic sounds of the cello with driving rock beats to create a cinematic, progressive rock sound,” according to its website, cellofury.org.
The group’s members — three cellists and a drummer — joined together after studying music at Carnegie-Mellon and Duquesne universities in Pittsburgh, and have made performance and education their full-time livelihoods. They write, compose, produce their own music, have released two original CDs of their works, give private lessons and hold programs in schools in the region, including weeklong “Rock Camp for Strings” summer music instruction.
Formed in 2009, Cello Fury has performed as far away as Texas and Iowa, and has entertained at halftime of a Pittsburgh Steelers’ game at Heinz Field. Their published schedule has them conducting programs in Arlington, Va., schools and performing concerts in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh in February, then putting on shows in Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas and New York in March.
Cello Fury has developed a solid and dedicated following in the region, and Laird said the group’s appearance in Indiana has been creating some anticipation.
“At our Christmas concert at the senior high, a lady came up to me and said ‘I can’t believe you’re having Cello Fury here for a free concert,’” Laird said. “She said they have to pay big money to see them play in Pittsburgh.
“We are going to give people some great entertainment that evening.”
IF YOU GO:
What: Indiana Orchestras Rock!
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Indiana Area Junior High School auditorium
Admission: Free (donations accepted)