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Maestro conducts kids

Amanda Butler, Sierra Sun

Sierra Wire Choir, an elementary string orchestra, had a special visitor Friday, May 11.

Barry Jekowsky, the conductor and music director of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, dropped by to hold an informal string orchestra clinic with students from Truckee Elementary School (TES) and Mendive Middle School of Sparks, Nev.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,'” said fifth grader Cindy Hollingshead. “He’s such a famous conductor … I didn’t want to play in front of him. But then we did, and I think we did pretty good.”

Hollingshead had good reason to be intimidated.

Jekowsky graduated from Julliard and has conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., as well as the California Symphony Orchestra.

“How many orchestras have you conducted?” asked one of the young musicians.

“I don’t know,” said Jekowsky, “I have never counted, but a lot … that’s for sure.”

Jekowsky first got his start in music at age 5 when he started playing the piano. He went on to take up the violin, and then the trumpet.

But playing wasn’t Jekowsky’s goal. As a senior in high school he realized he wanted to conduct.

During the workshop held at Truckee Elementary School, Jekowsky gave the aspiring young musicians some valuable advice.

“Remember what I said: it’s important to sit up straight,” said Jekowsky. “Now let’s try it again.”

As the melodious sounds of the string instruments including the cello, violin, viola and string bass echoed through the air, the students themselves seemed pretty proud of their work.

“It was fun,” said Kenna Smith, a Truckee Elementary student. “It was a little scary to see all those big people (from Mendive) next to us … but I think we did OK.”

The Sierra Wire Choir was formed three years ago by Rita Whitaker-Haun.

“My son was a student at Truckee Elementary, and I saw the need for a string class,” said Whitaker-Haun. “I asked myself ‘What can I do?’ and so I decided to teach the class.”

Whitaker-Haun has taught the Sierra Wire Choir for three years. Students from any elementary school can participate after paying a tuition fee of $300 for the year.

Each fall she holds a demonstration for prospective members to show them the different instruments.

“I try to talk them out of it basically … I tell them how hard its going to be and that they are going to have to practice while all their friends are out playing in the snow,” said Whitaker-Haun.

Knowing how excited the students would be to talk to a real conductor, Whitaker-Haun decided to ask Jekowsky to come and speak.

“I played with him in the Reno Philharmonic, and I thought he might do it,” said Whitaker-Haun.

She was right: Jekowsky gladly agreed.

“Out of all the things I do, this is my favorite,” said Jekowsky. “I was helped so much along the way by people who were really passionate about music … I think it’s important to do the same for these kids.”

Jekowsky and Whitaker-Haun both hope the appearance will get people to realize how important music is in schools.

“I think it’s absolutely disgraceful … horrible, really, that there is not the same kind of music program offered in the middle school here,” said Jekowsky.

“Music seems to be the first thing that people cut, but what people don’t seem to understand is that music teaches humanity and principles. That’s what’s missing from education … we need to put humanity back into education.”

Students involved in the Sierra Wire Choir agree.

“I just hopes this program continues next year,” said Shannon Horn.

“Yeah,” piped up the rest of the students. “Tell them that it would be nice to have a class next year.”


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