Young musicians gearing up for All-District Concerts | ParkRecord.com

Young musicians gearing up for All-District Concerts

Dennis Harrington, String Specialist of the Park City School District and teaches at Ecker Hill Middle school, moved to Park City in 1998 and started the orchestra program.

The goal was to develop a group with musicians from fifth through 12th grade.

"We also wanted to have a performing group over at the high school," Harrington said during an interview with The Park Record. "We’ve met those goals over the years and we’ve definitely evolved."

The program began with five students in the whole district.

According to the Park City School District, there are 663 students taking music performance classes.

"Just at Ecker Hill, alone the seventh grade group has 38 students and there are 67 musicians in the sixth-grade group," Harrington said.

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The Ecker Hill music students, along with all the Park City School District music students, will be among the players for the Spring String Thing, on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. The Spring String Thing is part of the All-District Concerts, which begin on Thursday, Feb. 16, with the Voice O’Rama choirs production on Feb. 16, and wraps up with Bandapalooza on March 1. All performance begin at 7:30 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

The All-District Concerts have been performed on and off since 1998, said Harrington.

"We did them the first four years I was here and then took a few years’ hiatus, but started back up the last four years," he said. "It’s been a great addition to the students’ education."

One of the benefits is seeing the students’ attitudes change as the performances dates get closer.

"At the middle-school level, sixth and seventh grades, the students looks at the performances as just another concert and that they have to learn new music," Harrington said. "The only reaction we see right away is when they see the music is a little easier to play, because the seventh graders have to not only learn their literature, but also the literature they will be playing with the sixth graders.

"They’ll reminisce a bit and say, ‘Oh, I remember when we played that last year,’" he said. "But when they get to the concert, it hits them that they aren’t only playing with their particular orchestra, but also playing with the older students and they get a charge out of that."

The Spring String Thing Concerts, held later this month, will feature the Park City High School Chamber and Symphony orchestras, the Treasure Mountain Junior High Orchestra, the Park City String Band, the Ecker Hill String Band and the Sixth and Seventh Grade orchestras.

The concerts will include movements from Handel’s "Water Music" suite and an arrangement of the finale from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Harrington chose the Beethoven because the Utah Symphony performed the piece Thursday at the Eccles Center, and some of the kids were able to go to the concert and hear it played.

"Having a piece that the Utah Symphony is performing that the students are kind of familiar with makes their own performance more interesting to them," Harrington said. "Music students in Park City don’t get to go to the symphony often. Salt Lake City isn’t that far away, but it’s not one of those things people with middle-school-aged kids take advantage of."

Overall, there are two main criteria in choosing pieces for the students to play.

"First off, you have to choose arrangements that are level appropriate," he said. "In other words, the music is not so difficult that they can’t learn it. There are certain parameters for sixth- and seventh-grade level music based on the material that we have covered so far that are in the skill-set they have.

"Secondly, the music has to be good literature, like the Beethoven piece," he said.

While Harrington knows not all the students enrolled in the Park City School District music program will become professional musicians, he hopes the training will help the students develop attributes that will help them throughout their lives.

"We want to instill teamwork, first of all," he said. "The student musicians learn to work together. They know, even though their part might not be that particularly interesting in a certain part of a piece, the notes are important and they need to learn play their part well so others can play their parts. Especially when they are in a smaller group like a quartet, it’s vital to learn their part."

Harrington also wants the students to learn the discipline of practice.

"They need to learn the process of teaching their fingers, arms and bodies how to do certain things with a musical instrument and accomplish goals," he said. "It is also important for them to understand they won’t see results immediately after one day of practice, but over a course of time, whether it’s a week or two weeks or a month or six months, they start to notice how their skill levels start to improve dramatically."

Also, Harrington said the students never know just how the music will benefit them in the future.

"I started playing violin and piano when I was in fourth grade, and I dragged a bunch of my friends with me," he said with a laugh. "To this day, they still play, although one is a psychiatrist and one works in lab. In fact, we still play when I go visit them in Chicago.

"Music is a skill that if you choose to stick with it, you can play for the rest of your life."

The All-District Concerts will kick off with Voice O’Rama on Thursday, Feb. 16, and feature the Spring String Thing on Wednesday, Feb. 29, before wrapping up with Bandapalooza on Thursday, March 1. All performances, which are free and open to the public, will be held at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., and start at 7 p.m.