Middle-school Musicians Get Tips from a Pro
Posted: Monday, March 3, 2014 10:00 am
Article and Photo by Jessica Groover Pacek |
Charlotte Symphony horn player Andrew Fierova coaches eighth-graders at Harris Road Middle School on Thursday. Fierova has had five coaching sessions with the students and has a couple more left, thanks to a grant band teacher Laura Shepherd received through the Cabarrus County Education Foundation.
CONCORD, N.C. – It might have otherwise been a normal day for six eighth-graders at Harris Road Middle School, but on Thursday, they walked into a classroom and played their horns with a Charlotte Symphony player. It was not the first time this has happened, though.
Horn player Andrew Fierova and the students had their fifth coaching session on Thursday, thanks to a grant band teacher Laura Shepherd received from Cabarrus County Education Foundation.
“I was looking for somebody who could come in and work with the French horn players,” Shepherd said. “The symphony has French horn. I had exhausted all of my resources because all of my friends who could do it are teachers, too.”
She said she wanted someone to work with those students because their instrument is tougher to master and play.
“If you’ve got someone who is an absolutely professional…they would explain things better than I would,” Shepherd said.
She emailed Chris Stonnell, director of education for the Charlotte Symphony, and applied for a grant through Cabarrus County Education Foundation’s classroom mini grant program.
“We encourage all Cabarrus County public school teachers to submit an application for a grant for a project they have in mind,” said Rachel Wilkes, executive director for the foundation. “It’s something that can’t be covered in the school system itself.”
This past year, the foundation awarded 31 grants at a total of almost $14,000, she said.
Shepherd said she had originally just wanted her students to play their music stronger and have better technique, but she said the students have gotten even more out of it.
“He has taught them more of what it’s like to be a true musician,” Shepherd said.
At their fifth session on Thursday, Fierova told the students that they were “light years ahead” of when he showed up at the first session.
Fierova added later that, on the first session, the students did not have an oral framework.
“I couldn’t get the kids to sing the same note, and if they can’t hear anything, they can’t recreate it on the horn. … Everything between now and then has been trying to get them to that point, to have the tools to use,” Fierova said.
One of the first things Fierova said he did was to introduce an exercise that is like the game “telephone.” The student on one end begins to play, the person next to them joins in and matches their note, and so on.
“Right off the bat, they realized they have to learn together,” Fierova said.
He said he believed eighth-grader McKayla Blackwelder then said that, if one person does not play the right tune, everyone is wrong.
“One of them said, ‘We have to start doing things together,’” Fierova said.
So far, the students have learned the basics, and he plans to focus on dealing with the pressures of performing and the students’ future in music for the last sessions.
Fierova said he can relate to the students well because he is the second youngest member of the Charlotte Symphony and has a background in education. He is originally from Spartanburg, S.C., and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina and a master’s degree from the Juilliard School.
Eighth-grader Brycen Columbus said he felt like Fierova did a good job of working with the students.
“He has high expectations for us,” Columbus said. “He makes us feel we can play and exceed and do great this with this instrument.” “He gives us hope,” said eighth-grader Clifford Maske.
While Charlotte Symphony regularly has coaching sessions in Mecklenburg County, this was the first time it has occurred in Cabarrus County, Stonnell said. The staff hopes to expand its coaching sessions to Cabarrus and Union counties, he added.
“We want to be more of a regional orchestra,” Stonnell said.
Several of the Harris Road students said they have enjoyed receiving more individualized instruction to help develop their skills. They have been playing the horn for about a year and a half.
Blackwelder said the hardest part is having everyone work together as one, but she said she and her peers have gotten to know each other better and improved.
She, Columbus and Maske said they have not only improved their musical skills, but they have also learned life skills.
Blackwelder said she has learned better social skills, while Columbus said they have learned to work as a team.
“I feel like it teaches you to put your best foot forward,” Maske said.
Shepherd said seeing the students gain additional skills makes the experience even more worth it.
“They have seen how their relationship with one another affects their playing, and to me, that was an incredible breakthrough,” Shepherd said. “And if they can relate that to a job in the future or going to college, then we’re really doing something good.”
Contact reporter Jessica Groover Pacek: 704-789-9152