Stephanie Ames Asbell of Texas State, right, speaks with San Marcos CISD trustees about the university’s orchestral strings program for high school students. On the left is Trustee Judy Allen, while Trustee John Crowley is the center. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos CISD students in grades two through 12 will have opportunities this year to join two orchestral programs as the school district aims to implement its own orchestra program in the near future.
Texas State and the San Marcos Artist Retention and Training (SMART) Orchestra will sponsor the programs. The school district could launch its own orchestra as soon as the 2011-12 school year.
Texas State’s String Project, which went dormant after World War II, has been revived. It will offer, for students in grades two through five, two 45-minute classes on Monday afternoons and 30-minute lessons during the week beginning on Sept. 13. Texas State string education majors will teach the classes and private lessons.
“String education students will be gaining teaching experience on the job under the supervision of string faculty,” said Texas State’s Stephanie Ames Asbell. “Our faculty will be supervising them every step of the way and making sure they do a fantastic job for these students.”
Asbell said students may participate in the program for a fee of $100 per semester or $200 for the entire year, which, she said, averages out to $4 per hour of instruction.
“I think that’s quite a bargain for students, and we hope we’ll have a huge turnout,” Asbell said.
Registration started last week at the the Back-to-School Nights on all six elementary school campuses. Registration will continue through Sept. 13. Registration forms are available online at http://txstatestringproject.org.
“There have been many instances in which a string project starting has led to the formation of a public school orchestra program,” Asbell said. “I think, given the drive and the focus of the community on this effort, the time is absolutely right, and we’re so thrilled to be part of it.”
Classes will take place at the Texas State School of Music, at the intersection of Sessom Drive and North LBJ Drive. Classes meet for 12 weeks. At the end of each semester, students will present a public concert.
San Marcos CISD board trustees on Monday night unanimously approved an exemption to the district’s facility use policy to offer free practice space at San Marcos High School to the SMART Orchestra. Trustee David Castillo was absent. The SMART Orchestra needs the space for three and a half hours per week in the evening. The district customarily charges a $200 refundable deposit and $10 per hour for such usage.
The SMART Orchestra, led by Christopher Hanson, included 30 members of which about 20 were San Marcos CISD students. Among the San Marcos CISD students were fifth graders, middle school and high school students. One of the stated goals of the SMART Orchestra is to aid in the establishment of a middle school and a high school orchestral program at the San Marcos CISD. Another goal of the program is to establish an “orchestral network” for the city of San Marcos, which would involve the orchestral programs of San Marcos CISD, Texas State and the Smart Orchestra collaborating to expand string education in surrounding areas.
“There is an annual fee of $40 to be a part of the SMART Orchestra, but if a student cannot afford that, they find ways — through scholarships, et cetera — to make sure that any student is able to participate,” said San Marcos CISD Superintendent Patty Shafer. “If a student cannot afford an instrument, they work with them to help them find a way that they can have an instrument.”
Shafer said SMART Orchestra administrators agreed to help San Marcos High School band director Damon Knight develop an implementation plan for the creation of school district-funded orchestras.
Knight presented a proposal to trustees Monday last week calling for two middle school orchestras for grades 6-8 and one high school orchestra for grades 9-12. Each orchestra is proposed to consist of about 50 students. Knight proposed that one new teacher be hired for the high school orchestra and another brought on-board to direct both middle school orchestras.
“I see this as a way to feed into our plan to have an orchestra in the future, so I think that it would be good from that perspective,” said San Marcos CISD Trustee Judy Allen.
Trustee John Crowley echoed Allen’s sentiment, and Trustee David Chiu said he was prepared to offer a long, eloquent justification for offering district space at no charge, though he refrained from doing so because none of his colleagues expressed opposition to the notion.
“I was going to pull a Jimmy Stewart — Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so I’m glad everybody … ,” Chiu said.
In June, the school district estimated a cost of $175,000-$200,000 to create an orchestra for grades 7-12. That cost estimate included $100,000 for two new positions, $50,000-$75,000 for initial instrument costs and $25,000 for other budget items.
Knight estimated costs of $119,033.15 for Goodnight Middle School, $119,033.15 for Miller Middle School, $121,833.15 for San Marcos High School, $15,000 for 150 concert uniforms, and $100,000 for two new teachers, for a total cost of $474,899.45. Expenditures for instruments represent the highest costs, at $107,033.15 for each orchestra of 25 violins, 10 violas, 10 cellos, and five basses.
Chiu and Trustee Trustee Kathy Hansen favored phasing in orchestras, rather than implementing all of them at once. No trustees opposed the orchestra program or expressed skepticism at the idea. Hansen asked Knight to examine the feasibility of offering an orchestra program to sixth graders.
Knight and other district staff will develop an implementation plan for presentation to trustees at their meeting next month or soon afterwards, said Hanson.
“We also appreciate the fact that you are considering a future of fine arts in SMCISD tonight,” SMART Orchestra representative Shannon Fitzpatrick said to the trustees. “As you know, this isn’t the wish of just a few isolated parents, this has a broad base of support in the community — and of course in the university as well. When new families come to San Marcos, a lot of families are looking to what this school district has to offer. And when they see that the performing arts here works in concert — pardon — with Texas State, that’s a huge statement as to what this district is about and what we can offer our students.”Email | Print