Friday, August 29, 2008

The kids who captivated an entire city

I posted shorter version of this in the Rapid Reply on the Rapid City Journal's site (The Kids Who Captivated An Entire City, RCJ Editorial, Aug 27) which went to national competition (not a small feat) but was defeated at the championships (pretty soundly, but hey, it's the Little Big Leagues, and being there was a huge accomplishment!)

I felt this was too important to bury deep in the Rapid Reply, so I expanded on my comment here:

First, I don't want to take away from these Little League kids, they, with the unselfish support of coaches and parents, have done a great thing.

But I want to note that there is a another group of kids in this town and adults that support them that do not get the recognition they deserve.

Our public school orchestra ensembles are stellar on a national level, and the high school groups consistently do very well in regional and national competitions. (Truth in advertising, I'm aware of all this as a parent of three young string players (11,12,17), so I know this from the inside.)

These kids do not have it handed to them on a platter... playing string instruments is a huge commitment, as it takes many years, practicing with incredible dedication, to master the skills involved. They represent a diverse group from all over Rapid City and they (and our public school staff) have all worked very hard for many years (from elementary music, and some even earlier) to be where they are.

Every spring, 800 (rough guess) elementary school string players (grades 4-8) do an amazing annual concert at the Civic Center. The national-level clinicians who come here to direct these concerts are overwhelmed at the accomplishments of this program and what it provides to our young people, our families, and the larger community. In the last ten years, I have only seen very rare coverage of this event, which is a jewel of Rapid City.

Rapid City string players dominate the South Dakota All-State Orchestra, and they do that by mastering audition pieces that challenge professional musicians. The Central Chamber Orchestra was selected in 2006 and 2007 to play at major national conventions as the cream of the crop among all high school groups in the nation.

One of our high school orchestra directors recently earned a master's in conducting, and the other directed the Colorado All-State Orchestra last year. These people work hard together with kids from the elementary level up and deserve our gratitude for their MANY years of faithful dedication.

These teachers team up with Black Hills Suzuki School to run a week-long string retreat that can attract amazing teachers from around the country to give our kids individual and group instruction. These teachers include South Dakota's, John Thompson, SDSU orchestra conductor and violinist, and top-flight folks like renowned viola teacher Barbara Barber. The local teachers that run this thing keep it very affordable; they do it for minimal financial reward because it benefits the kids program immensely during the school year. Parents (like me) chaperone and contribute to this camp in many ways because we love it and know these investments will enrich these young people's lives in ways we can cnly imagine. Given some of the kids start as 3-year-old day campers, it's can be a 15-year commitment. The teachers have the similar long-term outlook.

There are no parades for them, and rarely even a mention in the papers or media -- not to take anything from our excellent athletic teams, again. To be blunt, our public school music programs don't get the press, support and accolades they deserve.

I am NOT whining that we need a pat on the back. These kids and parents and teachers receive much from this program. But the lack of recognition is why, year after year, we are threatened with cuts to a program that is seen in the national orchestra community as a treasure. And if we cut elementary music, it will be gone... it's that simple.

I just want to say that we should consider there are also other kids out there accomplishing great things in Rapid City as well. The kids and the adults that work very hard on this music program year after year richly deserve more public support. This program is something our community should celebrate, and dedicate ourselves to preserve.

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