GFPS piloting chamber orchestra ensemble

The Great Falls Public Schools district is piloting a chamber orchestra ensemble at C.M. Russell High School for the next school year.

The class would be an upper-level expansion of the chamber orchestra, like Russtones/Blue Notes is for both symphonic bands and Russell Ayres/Rhapsody is for Chanteur/Delphian.

The ensemble will perform without a conductor, but a music teacher will be present for all rehearsals to teach, facilitate and introduce new concepts, according to GFPS staff.

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The teacher would lead only when necessary and the bulk of rehearsals will be student driven, “providing a fertile ground for developing and exploring the skills necessary to be a life-long independent musician,” according to GFPS staff.

Each student member of the group would spend time in the first chair leadership position for all sections throughout the year and the group will explore and perform a range of selections, mainly works originally written for small string ensemble, according to GFPS staff.

“Everything is driven by the group, the ensemble,” Beckie Frisbie of the GFPS curriculum department told the school board during their Jan. 9 meeting.

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“Much of this is early music, but a balanced palate of all styles, genres, and composers, including an exploration of alternative styles (fiddle, jazz, mariachi, etc.) would be ensured. This class would introduce a pathway for string students interested in entering the music profession, specifically the area of music education, although this experience will benefit any aspect of a career in music,” according to GFPS staff.

Frisbee told the school board during their Jan. 9 meeting that there would be no change in staffing and no additional cost to add the class.

She said that both high schools have upper-level programs for band and choir but not for the orchestras.

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The class will expose students to more types of music and give them another outlet, she said.

Frisbie said that while reading the proposal from Steve Olson, the CMR orchestra teacher, “it screamed these could be our future educators for music in our district. It is going to be a good stepping stone for them.”

She said they’ll pilot the program at CMR for a year to see if it’s a good fit and Great Falls High will watch, as they’re interested in adding the program.

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Frisbie said if the program is successful, they’ll come back to the board to discuss adopting it as a formal class.

To participate, students must be part of the main orchestra and it would be part of their regular class schedule.

Bill Bronson, school board member, said, “this was an incredibly comprehensive proposal. This is where you may get your future music teachers, but even if you don’t I just see a lot of positive things” coming from the program.

Frisbie told the board, “you can see the passion even in the presentation.”

Board member Paige Turoski said, “I really like the idea.” She said that beyond music, it would also help students develop decision making and leadership skills.

She said she was looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Frisbie said that one of their first assessments will be when the ensemble performs and everyone can go listen.