Middle School Honor Ensembles 2020

Legend High School Comes Alive With Talented Young Musicians
Posted on 02/21/2020
Legend High School Comes Alive With Talented Young Musicians
Middle School Honor Ensembles Play for the Fifth Year

Middle School Honor Ensembles Collage
PARKER - Distant music swept like a river of murmuring cellos, ponderous timpanis, playful flutes, and elegant violins through the empty halls of Legend High School. Well, empty except for the nearly 100 musicians preparing for the exclusive performances of the Middle School Honor Band and Honor String Orchestra on Saturday, February 1. After a full day of playing for empty seats, the students would perform to an auditorium packed to standing-room-only.

Known collectively as the Honor Ensembles, the Honors Band and Honors String Orchestra provide gifted middle school musicians the unique opportunity to perform outside of their school performing groups. For many, this was the first time learning and playing with musicians of a similar skill level, with a greater variety of instruments, and with a conductor who was not their usual teacher.

Students learned the concert material on top of their regular class load, meeting for rehearsals over several months, and working with guest conductors during final concert preparations. These young musicians spent the entire day in rehearsal before the performance learning directly from guest conductors Michael Mozingo (Honor Band) and Michelle Ewer (Honor String Orchestra).

“I think it’s important that middle school students get the chance to experience an orchestra like this,” said Ewer. “Sometimes, it’s always high school, high school, high school.”

Both guest conductors have extensive experience in middle school education. Mozingo taught band for over 38 years, 27 of which were in the Lewis-Palmer District 38 in Monument, Colorado. Ewer, on the other hand, has been a professional educator for 39 years and was inducted into the Colorado Music Educators Hall of Fame in 2014.

“In school, they get in such a routine,” said Felicia Elenum, the Instrumental Music teacher at Ranch View Middle School. “Here, they start to see what happens when they’re constantly playing with a whole room full of people who care as much as they do. That’s huge.”

“[This experience] is what can carry music with them for the rest of their lives,” explained Taylor Hutchins, the Band and Orchestra Director for Cresthill Middle School.

“It’s a lot more fun,” said Ryan Hall, an eighth-grade cellist from Rocky Heights Middle School. “In school orchestra, we spend a lot more time learning the music because there are a lot of different levels like you’ve got people who are just starting and people who are really advanced.”

Since top musicians from each middle school played in the Honor Ensembles, students encountered higher music proficiencies than they experience in their usual class.

“I was surprised at the way a band can sound because we have a lot of instruments my [school] band doesn’t have,” said Colten Robidoux, an eighth-grader from Castle Rock Middle School who plays the flute. “I feel more confident in what we are playing and am happy to be surrounded by people who are at my skill level.”

Students like Tess Hopfer, an eighth-grade bassist from Rocky Heights Middle School, saw the Honor Ensembles as a way to improve her music ability.

“I wanted something different than school orchestra,” said Hopfer. “It helped me get a lot better and get to the point where I want to be for high school.”

Like Hopfer, Jeanette Hoel, an eighth-grade tenor sax player from Ranch View Middle School, saw her skill level change: “I’ve definitely improved my playing. The more I learn, the more I can incorporate into my everyday life, like if I’m listening to music, I understand what more things are.”

Other students, like seventh-grade violinist Sophia Gardner from Ranch View Middle School, enjoyed the novel music for its own sake: “They’re fun pieces to play! The rhythm’s different, it just sounds really nice, especially when you play it with a different person with another part.”

2020 was the fifth annual performance of the Honor Ensembles.

“We started back in 2015,” said Adam Van Alphen, Music Orchestra teacher at Mesa Middle School and Honor Ensemble Committee Chair. “At the time, [Douglas County] didn’t have anything like this. Over the last five years, we’ve made changes. We’ve established a culture.”

“I’ve never had a kid come back and be like, ‘Oh, I’m never doing that again,’” said Jay McGuffin, Instrumental teacher at Castle Rock Middle School and Castle View High School. “Seeing my kids get empowered in such a way that they become the teachers [for other students] in certain aspects.”

Whether or not students continue playing in high school and beyond, guest conductor Ewer said: “I hope [students] would continue playing because music is a good release for you. No one is saying you have to be a music major, music performer, just music for music’s sake. And take away that and enjoy and appreciate it.”

Middle school musicians interested in the 2020-21 Honor Ensembles can get more information on the DCSD Honor Ensembles website or by asking their school music teacher.
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