String Extravaganza shows program growth


Photo by Ella Diepen '17

James Gross, South’s Orchestra Director, directs the orchestra at the String Extravaganza.

Ella Diepen '17, Staff Writer

The annual tradition of the String Extravaganza shows the skill level, growth and development of all string students in the Grosse Pointe Public School System from fifth to 12th grade.

Orchestra students from nine elementary schools, three middle schools and both of the high schools played at String Extravaganza on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. at Grosse Pointe North.

“I enjoyed the concert very much. It is inspiring to see so many students learning instruments and seeing how their skill level improves over the time,” said Margit Chadwell, mother of Cara Chadwell, one of the performers of the middle school orchestra.

Opinions differ on the performance level. Whereas the “enthusiastic audience,” director Mr. Gross said, seemed to like the concert a lot, some performers themselves were less enthusiastic about the performance.

“The concert in general was not all that great. The middle schoolers were off beat and out of tune, but the high schoolers and the fifth graders were pretty on point,” Charlotte Huettemann ’19 said. Charlotte is a cello player in South’s concert orchestra and has been part of the orchestra since fifth grade.

The director of South’s and Pierce’s orchestras, Mr. Gross, seemed to be very content with their work so far.

“The high school students performed beautifully and always do,” Gross said via email.

In the beginning, the high school concert and symphony orchestras opened up the concert with “Impromptu” by Schubert, rewritten by Jean Sibelius. After that, the middle school orchestra and high school chamber orchestra, as well as the fifth grade beginning string orchestra, played.

Towards the end, all orchestras of different schools, grades and levels came together for “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and filled the whole room with their loud and enchanting sound. Alongside some classical pieces like The Hallelujah Chorus from “The Messiah,” composed by George Frederick Handel, there were also Christmas songs performed like “Ring, Christmas Bells, Ring,” played by the sixth grade orchestras.

Of course, a good performance takes up a lot of time for practice in advance. The orchestras have been rehearsing since six weeks for this string-playing orchestra celebration, Gross said.

“The practice was good, but chatty. Everybody gets along well. Orchestra is also a good place to make friends. The people from North were nice too,” Huettemann said.

In general, many students of all ages enjoy orchestra a lot and many parents think of it as a great opportunity for their kids.

“I am really proud of Cara being a part of the orchestra. Mr. Gross is really passionate and dedicated of teaching the kids how to be part of the group and helps them to enjoy music. It is a great part of their school day,” Chadwell said.

An important part of being so enthusiastic about orchestra seems to be the director and his views on education and music.

“What I like about being the orchestra director is having the opportunity to connect with young people and their families for seven consecutive years and that I can witness their development and maturity from adolescents into adults,“ Gross said. “The biggest challenge I face in my job is finding balance.”

Teachers as well as a lot of students profit from the existence of the orchestras in the Grosse Pointe schools.

“Mr. Gross is a pretty good teacher and it’s fun to be in orchestra,” Huettemann said. “The bad thing about orchestra is the song choice this year. The songs we play are really annoying, because we already played them last year. Also, they are not difficult at all. I could have played them in middle school.”

Not only do the musical, educational and communal aspects appeal to students, it is also a great alternative to gym class, Huettemann said.

“I’m happy that there is no exercise involved in orchestra,” Huettemann said. “It tones your muscles even though you don’t feel it which means that I’m never sour but I still look great.”

Margit Chadwell said that her child being in orchestra filled their house with music throughout all the years and music is a big part of their family life.

“Scientists say that practicing music makes you smarter, but my brother Philipp quit band and he is still doing better in school than me,” Huettemann said.

Even if music tragically does not always make you smarter, that it impacts people’s life in a significant way is beyond a doubt.

“Music allows me to share joy with others to hopefully lift their spirits,” Gross said.

The listeners enjoyed hearing the string beginners in fifth grade as well as the advanced high and middle school students and how their own children’s, siblings’ or friends’ musical skills grow with time. Also, it is for setting an example for younger kids and encourage them to play in orchestra by showing them how awesome they will sound, even though we did not sound that awesome, Huettemann jokingly said.