I was in fifth grade the first time I ever held an instrument. It was a cello, as big as I was. The deep shiny wood on the instrument enticed me, as if it was a shiny gold object and I was a fairy looking for treasures.
Little did I know, I would continue to be enticed by string instruments for several years. Now that I’m a senior and have played six years of viola—and a mere one year on the cello—I’ve been looking back on my years in orchestra fondly. There’s a bittersweetness to coming to the end of something like this—a sense of pride for being so dedicated for so many years, but an underlying sadness knowing the one thing I’ve loved about high school will soon be over.
Seniors experience this feeling a lot with many things in their final year of high school, and usually, Oyster River High School (ORHS) does a good job of keeping up with traditions meant to honor the seniors who have participated in sports and even clubs. For athletes, you’ve probably seen the big fundraised -posters hung up—one for each senior. Each athletics team even has a senior night to be able to show their oldest team members some love. Certain club members at ORHS in the past have received small trophies or certificates to credit them for their dedication over the years, such as drama club and the math team. But what will I, and the other graduating seniors, show for our near seven years in strings or studio orchestra?
Unfortunately, there isn’t currently anything in place for graduating seniors who have played in the strings or studio orchestra group for all four years of high school. As someone who, as I mentioned, dedicated about seven years of my life to the strings orchestra group, I feel disappointed. I look at my peers who play sports and watch them receive bouts of appreciation from other students and faculty in the form of senior nights and pep rallies.
I walk into my school and the first thing I see are photos of athletes lining the walls—and don’t get me wrong, it’s not that our extraordinarily talented and driven athletes don’t deserve recognition like that—it’s just that another equally talented and dedicated group of kids deserves it too.
So what can we do for our graduating seniors who have been committed to the music department for the past four years? Between concert attendance and new honors society chapters, there’s a number of things ORHS and its community can do.
Andrea von Oeyen, the director of string orchestra at ORHS and Oyster River Middle School (ORMS) said, “Athletics has a very natural way of being able to recognize our kids. It’s very public, and it’s frequent. They’re playing games all the time, whereas our concerts don’t happen as frequently,” and I agree.
When you go for about three or four months not hearing about a music group, it’s easy to forget about them. Another part of that is the fact that getting the word out for a concert can be challenging. Sports games and athletics have a different sort of public perception. Concerts are much more private and intimate than a sports game, which is much more open to the public. This makes attendance for orchestra concerts slim, and in turn may make musicians feel unnoticed.
Von Oeyen said, “the music teachers are in charge of getting our musicians recognized, whereas athletics has a director, so we might not be able to get the word out about concerts and events as well.”
There are several things that the music department and the Oyster River community can do to bring more of a spotlight to concerts put on by the ORHS music department. It starts with showing up. Concert attendance is the key factor when it comes to helping ORHS musicians feel appreciated and recognized. While concert dates are set well in advance, sometimes people aren’t entirely aware of the upcoming performances. This puzzles me seeing as update emails announce concert dates, the concert date is posted on the sign outside at the front of the building, and sometimes it will be included in the morning announcements at ORHS. However, spreading the word doesn’t mean as much if the community doesn’t follow through. Most of the time, the audience of the orchestra concerts are mostly parents and family members of students who are performing. While that’s obviously still great, and the support does not go unnoticed or unappreciated, the members of the strings and studio orchestra would love to be able to share their music with the rest of the school.
It’s typical of a group to gain popularity over time within the community as they become more established, but the strings orchestra in particular has blown up over the past four years. In a class of 65 students, you won’t find a 65:1 student-to-teacher ratio anywhere else in the district. “We used to do a lot more [concerts] in the form of assemblies, and that was a really public way to get recognition for our musicians. Because of how much the program’s grown, we don’t really have a place at the high school where we can do that anymore, since there’s no room on the stage for all of us to play together anymore,” von Oeyen said. With essentially no space to put on a concert at the high school due to the strings orchestra’s size, the music department has put on concerts at the Oyster River Middle School (ORMS) concert hall for the past few years. They have not put on an “assembly” like concert since the program has exploded in numbers. While I don’t personally believe this is a reason as to why student attendance at concerts is low, it could be a factor.
While concerts bring recognition to the string and studio ensembles as a whole, there’s a lot more to be done to help bring recognition to students who participate in music on a more individual level. As I mentioned earlier, as graduating seniors like myself start to prepare for the rest of our lives, we’ll also start to think about the things we’ve accomplished over the past four years.
Many students with high performance in their academics are involved in organizations like National Honor Society, which builds community and allows for recognition within school-and at graduation. There is also the French National Honor Society, and the Spanish National Honor Society, which gives students recognition for their academic achievements. Unfortunately for music-devoted students like myself, ORHS doesn’t have a chapter of Tri-M Mu-sic National Honors Society, which would recognize musicians at ORHS, and give them a place to build community.
“We’ve talked a lot in our music department about starting a music Honors Society, ” von Oeyen said. “We’re working on that right now because we feel that the [music] program is developed enough, and our staff is at a point where we feel like we could take that on and honor our students that way.”
If ORHS had a chapter of the Tri-M Music National Honors Society, students would be required to be enrolled in a music class for at least two semesters and maintain a 3.0 GPA in all their classes. The benefits of ORHS having a chapter of Tri-M may seem superficial to some, but for musicians who are interested in building a community surrounding music, leadership, decision-making, planning, and positive influence, a Tri-M chapter could be just what they need to feel more integrated and recognized in the ORHS community.
While I recognize that an honors society is not a big poster with our faces on them, and it’s not a senior night, it’s a group which builds community and brings people together in the same way that those things do. Having a Tri-M chapter at ORHS would help seniors who have played an instrument in the music department feel more accomplished in music.
On a smaller scale, and more personal level, von Oeyen says she still tries to make her seniors feel appreciated. “I try to do an orchestra dinner for just our seniors at the end of the year after our last concert. It’s not public recognition necessarily, like sports, but the sports banquets aren’t exactly public either,” she said.
And von Oeyen is right—the recognition is not public, but she still found a way to help make her seniors’ final years feel fulfilling and special. Despite strings and studio orchestra not having a plethora of traditions for seniors like the athletics department, there’s still ways to help make them feel appreciated and give them recognition for their dedication.
As a school, to help give our devoted graduating string players the recognition they deserve, we should at-tend their concerts, keep up with events and fundraisers they do, and recognize that they are not less deserving of beloved senior traditions that other dedicated students get to experience.
Since ORHS prides itself on their attentiveness to the arts, I’d love to see the seniors who have grown up with the music department receive a little attention for it. Whether that be in the form of posters and senior nights like athletics, a certificate like the math team, or the cultivation of a Tri-M chapter, this ever-growing group of driven people deserves some love for their years of hard work.