Sophia Frohberg started playing the cello five or six years ago when she lived in Minnesota. Her school had an orchestra program.
A few years later when she and her family moved to Keller, Sophia took private lessons but didn’t have a school group. Now the Keller High junior is part of the newly formed Keller ISD Advanced Orchestra.
The group practices after school each Tuesday at the Keller ISD Education Center.
“I just like having the opportunity to play in a group,” Sophia said. “It’s good to get together with other kids who share your passion.”
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This fall, the district began the first phase of implementing an orchestra program. Beginning violin is offered after school to fourth-graders at 11 elementary schools. Students who have been playing strings for a while can participate in the advanced group and those with less experience have an intermediate and beginning orchestra that meets after school on Thursdays.
Some 300 children are involved in the district program. On March 23 at 6:30 p.m., the KISD Strings Academy Spring Concert will take place in the Keller High Fine Arts Center.
Kim Blann, KISD fine arts director, said that the community response to the program has been exciting. The challenges of the first year include finding enough strings instructors, space issues and managing groups.
Next year, officials plan to offer a beginning violin program to all second- through fourth-graders afterschool at a central location. Another afterschool program will be available for fifth- and sixth-graders to learn any of the string instruments, while intermediate and advanced orchestras will continue for seventh through twelfth grades. Eventually, the program will expand to support teachers and classes during the school day.
Several area districts have full-fledged strings programs. While Keller has a great reputation for band, theater and visual arts, the lack of an orchestra was “an obvious hole” in district fine arts offerings, Blann said.
“We’re incredibly excited by the response and support so far, but we’re also mindful of how much work it’s going to take to get the program to the level we want it,” Blann said.
At a recent advanced orchestra practice, students and parents were enthusiastic about the new program.
Mom Kristen Kenefick, said of her fifth-grade daughter, “It’s exciting to see her play with a group.”
Clair Kenefick, a student at South Keller Intermediate, said she learns more pieces now and improves faster because she works with other musicians.
Michelle Crosby, director of the advanced orchestra and a strings instructor, said, “Private lessons are very important, but having a group provides support for them and gives them a reason to play.”
The orchestra includes students in every grade, from fourth through twelfth. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find music, but Crosby wants musicians to be confident about what they’re playing.
After the March concert, a smaller group of advanced students will continue to perform as a chamber orchestra and will compete in a local music contest in May.