Middle school orchestra taps the meaning of music in education

Sequoyah orchestra teacher Rebecca Pomeroy conducts the Phoenix Orchestra. Pictured (left to right) are violinists Eloisa Serrano, Junguk Lee, Honson Ling and Inna Grib. - Neal McNamara, The Mirror
Sequoyah orchestra teacher Rebecca Pomeroy conducts the Phoenix Orchestra. Pictured (left to right) are violinists Eloisa Serrano, Junguk Lee, Honson Ling and Inna Grib.
— image credit: Neal McNamara, The Mirror

A gusty, gray and drizzling Wednesday morning was the backdrop for Sequoyah Middle School teacher Rebecca Pomeroy’s eighth-grade orchestra students to demonstrate their version of “Conquistador,” an epic, driving piece that recalls a Spanish solider rushing into battle.

Natalie Hoss’ upright bass provided the warm foundation, while violinists Inna Grib, Honson Ling and Junguk Lee brought the intensity, and cellos and violas produced taut rhythm. Pomeroy sat in front of the nine-piece Phoenix Orchestra (Sequoyah’s mythical mascot) conducting, demonstrating the time signature with her right hand and volume with her left.

In the middle of “Conquistador,” Pomeroy stopped conducting and asked,“What measure do we go back to?”

“Five,” they respond in unison, and continued with the piece. Pomeroy said her students have just begun to learn “Conquistador,” but to a casual observer, it seems they’ve almost mastered it.

The all-string Phoenix Orchestra is preparing for one of three annual concerts to showcase Sequoyah’s orchestra program. The eighth-graders — joined by some of their sixth- and seventh-grade peers, plus the school’s choir — will perform a free mid-winter concert at 7 p.m. March 7 at Sequoyah.

A school orchestra is somewhat of an outlier in a time of bad budget news for schools and fears over students’ achievement on standardized tests. But Pomeroy’s students are serious about their instruments, and playing in the orchestra is an important part of their education.

“I would switch schools,” Hoss said when asked about attending a school without a music class.

“You know how a lot of guys play video games?” Lee said. “To me, it’s like that; it gets rid of all my stress.”

“A lot of kids don’t know anything about music,” Grib said about the importance of music in education.

Many of the students are already well-accomplished musicians; they appear confident with their instruments, and concentrate intensely on their sheet music while they play. Hoss picked up the upright bass in sixth grade and has learned how to play the electric bass; she also plays in the school’s jazz band. Ling has been playing violin since second grade.

The orchestra has been practicing a couple of pieces for Monday’s concert. They’ll do a rendition of the theme from “Pirates of the Caribbean” — on which viola player Irina Fedas plays bass drum. They’ll also do “All the Pretty Little Horses,” arranged for a string orchestra, and another epic, “Dragonhunter.”

“This is something really good going on with music in our schools, and I’d like to see the Federal Way and Auburn communities come out,” Pomeroy said, noting that March is national “music in our schools” month.

In total, Pomeroy has 32 orchestra students (“I wish I had 1 million,” she said) and has taught the class since 2005. Students go on field trips — they’ll visit the Experience Music Project in Seattle in April — and even go on tour when they play outdoors in Leavenworth in May.

When asked, the Phoenix Orchestra collectively said that it does not get nervous — they try to act as much like professional musicians as possible. “When we’re all playing together,” said violinist Eloisa Serrano, “we sound loud enough, like a regular-sized orchestra.”


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