Whether it’s early in the morning, during the school day or after school, at least two thirds of the boys at Allen-Stevenson participate in orchestra and instrumental lessons.
Early morning rehearsals provide more than just the obvious chance for the musicians to play their instruments. Boys arrive excited to be at school connecting and catching up on the latest before the rehearsal begins. What is striking is the responsibility these boys take for arriving early, having their instrument and music with them, undertaking their own warm up and being ready when Orchestra Director Randy Schrade officially begins the rehearsal.
At the Middle School orchestra rehearsal, Mr. Schrade talked to the fifth and sixth graders about how they are still growing as a group. He encouraged them to take risks and to be willing to make mistakes, rather than not playing a more challenging section. "I want to hear your mistakes. That way we can address them sooner!" He talked about the upcoming performance for the children who would be visiting from PS 83 and how wonderful it was for them to have the opportunity to share the vision of music with their little guests.
Watching the boys work together, carefully listening and watching each other to create the desired sound was powerful.
After practice, a few boys, some of whom play instruments outside of school as well, shared why they joined the orchestra and what they have learned by being a part of the music program.
Julian Cohen ’22, violinist, said, “My brother played the violin and I heard him play a song that I thought, ’if I can create that it would be amazing’.” I tried the guitar and drums too. What I like about orchestra is that it’s not just a solo you are playing, it’s part of a group…you’re blending with others. You can’t be too loud or too quiet.
Philip Negrin ’23, cellist, said “My older brother plays in the orchestra, so I wanted to too. You really have to concentrate and watch the conductor. It’s also a nice way to start the school day.”
Nick Hutfilz ’22, cellist, said, “I wanted to play Harry Potter and Star Wars, both of which I love. Being a part of the orchestra is cool, because you are with other people, while working out your part by listening. I’ve made friends from other grades too.
"These boys often are not content to play just one instrument but branch into two or three," observes Mr. Schrade. “The piano and guitar complement the single line instrument very well. I grew up playing the cello and piano until I started having to reallocate time later in life. We have some composer/conductors here in our student body who have played more than three instruments.”
The science is established. Music helps the brain to develop and to organize multiple activities, and to multitask eventually. It can provide the "sticky factor" when learning in other disciplines. It motivates when you’re working, and it can power your dream world.
Mr. Schrade likes to throw analogies and metaphors in his rehearsals. "Music is skiing down a mountain! You look for the "plumb line" to optimize the thrill, but you look for the detours to make it beautiful and memorable!" Music is water-skiing: You’re hanging out there until the boat suddenly pulls you up and off you go! It’s "sound math"! Liquid language! It’s your happy place that you can design and shape! You can meet with your friends and do something that galvanizes and synergizes your energies. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but the quality of the parts matters! The perfect chord is a state of peace and tranquility, a safe haven for any young growing man. Music is fortiter et recte embodied. It is also an emotional hug when you need one, or better, one that you can give to others who are seeking to engage.”
Mr. Schrade knows this experience from several perspectives, as a student of Allen-Stevenson, a member of a performing family and as a teacher/director who came back to Allen-Stevenson after seeing the world and earning his MA in music theory and performance at Yale. Perhaps he knows something about finding the inner line!