StringFest, hosted Saturday by the Sedalia Symphony Society, is not only providing an opportunity for students to grow as individual musicians, but enhancing a future generation of orchestra potential.
String students from Marshall and Pettis County participated in the annual event hosted at the Smith-Cotton Junior High School Saturday morning. Sedalia School District 200, Marshall Public Schools and private instruction students rounded out the educational event. Eight string instructors worked with the students in sectionals — first violin, second violin, viola, cello, bass and string beginner — before they were assembled to practice as unit and then gave a 12:30 p.m. performance for family and friends.
Sedalia Symphony President Betty Sue Viterna said she was pleased to see most of the students had arrived “despite the weather.”
“Last year we had 97 (students) and this year up to 129,” she added. “I believe the year before (last) it was in the 60s, it’s growing each time.”
She said she believed StringFest was an asset to the community.
“We’re getting more students involved in the music program, more into the string program,” she noted. “They play in the orchestras in the school and then they also have the opportunity, as they progress, to play with the Sedalia Symphony.”
This year’s guest clinician was Russ Berlin, of Lee’s Summit, conductor of the Lee’s Summit Symphony.
Berlin taught for 30 years in the Lee’s Summit schools before retiring. He has taught the Kansas City Youth Symphony for 18 years and has been the conductor of the Lee’s Summit Symphony for 13 years.
He said he is familiar with the area because his father grew up in Marshall.
“This has been good today,” Berlin said of Stringfest. “I think it’s great that they are doing this because I was just talking to one girl and she said ‘I’m just so happy to be here.’ I thought that is such a great attitude, because they are getting a lot of extra help and I think Gwen (Kappelman) does a great job. The volunteers work so hard to make this important. It helps the community.”
He was impressed with the 81-year history of the Sedalia Symphony and was please to be part of StringFest.
“What a great opportunity this is for young people … this is the way you continue it,” he said. “That’s the way it is in Lee’s Summit. Many of the people who are playing are former students of mine and we keep trying to bring in kids. These are the next musicians in your symphony. So it’s very important … they are the future of the community.”
For the concert, Berlin led the students in four numbers: “Colossus” by Larry Clark, “Heroic Venture” by Kenneth Baird, “Autumn Vows” by Susan H. Day, and “Bold Venture” by M.L. Daniels.
Sarah Love, of Marshall, a Sedalia violin teacher, was working with beginner students Saturday along with Elizabeth Kehl. She said the event helps students to learn to work together and gain self-assurance.
“It’s a wonderful chance for students in the area to have a chance to be in a group,” Love added. “It gives them a chance, they are not by themselves playing. They gain confidence.”
Michael Moellman, a member of the Sedalia Symphony and the orchestra director for Sedalia School District 200, was on hand Saturday as one of the eight instructors for StringFest. The Sedalia School District 200 string program had been declining the last few years and he was happy to see students interested in playing again. On Saturday, he was helping with the Contrabass students.
“This is really uplifting,” he said. “The program has been deteriorating and this is hopefully breathing new life. We want to see the program grow. The (S-C) high school only has 10 (string) students, in all four grades of high school; our fifth grade has 40 students. If we can keep half of them every year from here on we’ll have a big orchestra.”
Gwendolyn Kappelman, conductor for the Sedalia Symphony, said the Sedalia and Marshall schools under the direction of Moellman and Kevin Lines, respectively, plus private local music teachers were given the scores beforehand to give to their students. Practice began weeks before the event.
“It been very well attended,” she added. “They do sectionals for two hours and they work on the music. Then what’s really exciting is they have a mass group.
“Most of these people play with much smaller groups” she added. “Marshall, they have 33 in their orchestra, I’m not sure what Sedalia has right now because we are in a growing process.”
She said the larger advanced string group had 98 students on stage practicing for the 12:30 p.m. performance.
“That makes a bigger sound, that makes a more exciting sound,” she said. “It’s really a great experience. For the last two years we’ve brought in somebody else to conduct, besides me. That gives them a different taste of somebody really important. Last year with Kirt Moiser, he was the composer of two of the pieces that we played. This year Russ Berlin, he is the conductor of the Lee’s Summit Symphony Orchestra.”
Kappelman added that StringFest was originally the “brainchild” of Sedalia Symphony member Barbra Schrader, and the reason for it is to foster in the students the experience of playing with other string musicians.
“I think it’s important that they play together in a very large ensemble,” she noted. “You don’t usually have that kind of exposure. Hopefully we give them music that is a challenge. We play different grade levels, so everybody can play something, and the older students can be challenged as well.”
Upcoming events for the Sedalia Symphony Orchestra include the presentation of Handel’s “Messiah” at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6 at Broadway Presbyterian Church, 209 W. Broadway Blvd., and the Christmas Pops Concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7 at the United Methodist Church Celebration Center, 1701 W. 32nd St.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.