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Orchestra popular choice for West Knox students

They practice, jostle for placement within the team and put on quite a show. They’re not football or basketball players, but they are just as dedicated to perfecting their talents with bows and strings as basketball players are with free throw shots.

Clad in formal black and white, they impress audiences with instruments that seem to emote through tremolos and crescendos. As the low lights come up, orchestra parents, just like sports moms and dads, wait eagerly for their child’s performance.

West Knox County has orchestra opportunities in Bearden, Farragut and Karns high schools as well as Cedar Bluff, Farragut and West Valley middle schools. Strings is taught at Bluegrass Elementary and Farragut Intermediate schools. Other schools in the Knox County system with string programs include Austin-East and Karns high schools, Karns and Vine middle schools and Beaumont Elementary.

Leah Cushing has found a lot of enthusiasm for the orchestra program at Farragut Intermediate School.

“Since there are so many students normally interested in trying strings, we usually have to do a drawing and pick fifty names,” she said.

The UT master’s degree student has taught there for two years.

She has two groups of 25 students and each group meets for one hour a week.

Cushing plans to be at FIS one more year while she does her graduate assistantship.

Cushing comes from a musical family. She grew up in Morristown and started taking private violin lessons when she was 5 years old. She and her two sisters all play the violin, and her mother plays the flute. Her dad “wouldn’t say he plays,” she said, although he’ll pick up a guitar, violin or banjo for fun.

Debra Patterson teaches orchestra at Farragut Middle School, where she has 101 kids involved in the program. One highlight coming up is the String Ensemble’s 6:30 p.m. performance at the FMS Founder’s Day program Tuesday, Feb 7. Members of the ensemble had to audition to be part of the group, and the group practices at 7:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

In addition, FMS eighth-graders will participate in a concert with their high school counterparts Thursday, Feb. 9, and the FMS orchestra will have its spring concert at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 27, at the school.

Patterson also teaches orchestra at Farragut High School, where she is in her ninth year. Her 45 students take part in the junior and senior clinics, and the all-state orchestra. Making the all-state clinic (and possibly the all-state orchestra) is quite an honor.

Over spring break, the orchestra, chorus and band programs will take about 200 kids and parents to New York City.

“We’ve got a whirlwind trip,” said Patterson. The group will board buses Thursday, Feb. 23, and return at 8 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 27. They plan to be tourists as well as performers. Sights they will take in include the Statue of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall, an opera and a Broadway show, Patterson said. The FHS band will be performing at the Statue of Liberty. Performance sights for the orchestra and chorus are still being determined.

Cedar Bluff Middle School has about 80 students in its orchestra program. Peggy Jones has been the orchestra teacher for five years.

“It’s grown quite a bit,” said Jones. “It seems like there are more and more sixth-graders interested in playing a stringed instrument.”

Jones has a request on behalf of all the string programs in the county: “Donations of any stringed instruments would be greatly appreciated,” she said.

She divides her string instruction time between CBMS and Bearden High School.

Jones said she enjoyed playing the violin as a young person.

“I realized it was something I’d like to do, because I was teaching private lessons and it was so rewarding,” she said, adding she enjoys seeing students learn. “The other aspect of it is the ‘ah-ha’ thing that happens when a young person figures something out.”

CBMS puts on three concerts a year, with two this spring.

The seventh- and eighth-graders go to Pigeon Forge to compete in the Dollywood Music Festival.

In March the Cedar Bluff eighth graders join the West Valley Middle School eighth-graders at Bearden High School. The two groups play as one big group for a day.

“The students get to see what it would be like to be in the high school orchestra,” Jones said.

Jones is also the orchestra director for BHS and she has watched that program really grow in the last few years.

“When I started it was eight kids,” she said. “By next semester it’s supposed to be forty-nine kids.”

The BHS orchestra had a concert in December and will be performing two spring concerts.

Jones credits James Fellenbaum, UT orchestra conductor, for coming to the aid of orchestra programs in Knox County.

“All the U-T music staff is very supportive of the schools,” she said. “They come over and play with the kids.” The UT staff – Sheila Brown, violist, Wesley Baldwin, cellist and Rusty Holloway, bass teacher – have helped with various BHS activities, including the junior and senior clinics.

The Bearden orchestra raises money to help fund the program. The orchestra hosted a pancake breakfast in September and is considering selling candy bars this semester.

Jones has two children of her own at CBMS. Her sixth-grade daughter plays the bass, and her eighth-grade son plays the cello.


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