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New Hyde Park Illustrated News - Schools

Symphony Awakens the Classics in Children

You’ve probably heard of all of the outreach programs that professional and regional orchestras do for elementary kids.  The kids either get on a bus and travel to a concert hall or the orchestra may even come to the school auditorium and perform at an assembly designed to educate the youngsters about the full symphony orchestra (strings, winds, brass, percussion) medium and to garner interest in classical music.

At Searingtown Elementary School, the full symphony orchestra performing for the students are the students themselves.

Piloted last year, the orchestra teacher Andrea Somma and band teacher David Stevens decided to combine their select chamber ensembles to form the Searingtown Symphony Orchestr—an ensemble with full instrumentation for the most part.

“We’re short on French horns this year, so we plug in some saxophones to fill out that section,” says Stevens who is responsible for providing the brass, woodwind, and percussion sections.  “ We have an impressive low brass section, and it’s always easy to find good flutists and clarinetists.”

Andrea Somma, who has been teaching the Searingtown string program for the past 15 years has her work cut out for her. “An orchestra is not complete without Basses and Violas and those instruments are hard to come by.  We’ve been lucky the past few years.  When we do our instrument demonstrations to the second-graders, we always have those issues in the back of our heads.”

Once the band and orchestra are combined, the biggest issue and the biggest reason there are little or no full symphony orchestras at this age level is the music itself.

“In public school music, band kids are born into the key of Bb Major whereas the Orchestra kids are born into D Major.  It’s difficult to find literature that both instrument families can realistically learn so we usually search for a common key that equally challenges both strings and winds,” says Somma.

This year, the group performed the Funeral March from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, which needed Stevens’ penchant for arranging music in order to succeed.  

The students met during their recess time over the past few months in order to put the full symphony orchestra together and performed to enthusiastic audiences over the past week.

“We worked those kids, but they just kept coming back,” said Somma.  “I’d walk the halls and suddenly hear the the theme by Mahler being whistled.  I’d turn and there are a couple of fourth-graders walking to class whistling a tune that they would’ve otherwise not learned until highschool if ever.”

Stevens attributes this unlikely project to the greater community of Herricks School District.  “These kids are as ordinary as any kid in America, but there’s a standard and a sophistication that weaves itself throughout this community.  It’s almost like we had no choice.  The niche was just waiting for us.”

The end result - a full symphony comprised of more than 50, 8-10 year olds from a single elementary school, is anything but average.