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Orchestras celebrate 10-year milestone

Special 429-student concert to mark occasion

Kyle Pitcher leads the Rockford High School orchestra through a rendition of ‘Jane & Josey’ for the upcoming 10th anniversary concert

Editor’s note: It’s been 10 years since the inception of Rockford Public Schools’ orchestra programs, and six years since School News Network covered the expansion of the program to the high school. SNN, which is also celebrating its first decade, checked back in with the high-school orchestra ahead of a 10th anniversary community concert.

Rockford — Rockford Public Schools is marking a milestone: 10 years since the formation of the district’s string orchestra program.

Excitement about the anniversary is building among teachers and students and it’s all expected to culminate with a free concert at 7 p.m. tonight, March 1, at Rockford High School. The concert will feature a total of 429 musicians from grades six through 12 joining together on the gymnasium stage. 

“It’s just going to be a big spectacle,” said Kyle Pitcher, the high school orchestra director. “I’ve never worked with an ensemble this big, so it will be a pretty cool, massive logistical undertaking that we’re excited to show off.”

‘When we have a strong orchestra to complement the band and the choir, everyone sees the benefits. … More opportunity is never a bad thing.’

— Kyle Pitcher, Rockford High School orchestra director

‘Learning and Growing’

Though the high school orchestra, which launched in 2018, is relatively new, the program has already become a cherished part of the lives of students like junior Chloe Willner and sophomore Noah Dickerson. The two cellists note the orchestra as a highlight of their high-school careers. 

“I love playing the cello itself,” Chloe said. “It’s just different from what you get to do in normal school.”

For Noah, it’s all about the social component. When asked what he likes most about participating in orchestra, Noah said it’s “probably the people.”

“I love hanging out with people and just learning and growing,” he said.

Chloe, Noah and their fellow ensemble members have been hard at work learning the arrangements for the 10th anniversary concert, rehearsing for the event since returning from winter break. The process involves learning a piece titled “Rockford Rejoice,” commissioned by the district from University of Michigan music professor Michael Hopkins. 

“(It) was composed specifically for us to celebrate this milestone,” Chloe said. “There’s a high-school part, but there’s also different parts for the middle-schoolers and the sixth-graders. It’s just very layered and unique and stuff.”

Both Chloe and Noah are excited about performing the piece for the community.

“I’m a little nervous, but that comes with the job,” Noah said.

Ten Years in the Making

Rockford’s orchestras started in the 2013-14 school year with only 71 members, said Pitcher, who credits former school board member Carol Hillman as the catalyst for getting the program up and running.

“At a school board meeting in 2012, Carol came into the room with a violin case in hand and gave an impassioned speech to the board about the benefits of including an orchestra program among the many enrichment opportunities that RPS has already provided,” Pitcher said. 

Those benefits are manifold, he said. The orchestra offers an opportunity, in addition to band and choir, for students to get involved with music curriculum; it also challenges students to excel at something outside of traditional academics.

Junior Chloe Willner gets to know the music for the orchestras’ 10th anniversary concert

“It does nothing but expand the depth and the interest that we have in the music programs here,” Pitcher said. “When we have a strong orchestra to complement the band and the choir, everyone sees the benefits. … More opportunity is never a bad thing.”

The Next 10 Years

So far, the orchestra program has proven to be a successful undertaking in the district, with growth that indicates “a wealth of support for the study of music in our community,” said Pitcher. “We will be continuing to find ways to engage the community and to enrich the musical lives of our students.” 

Further growth is all but guaranteed, as a new orchestra space is set to open at North Rockford Middle School for the 2014-15 school year.

As for the 10th anniversary concert, Pitcher said he’s excited for Rockford’s orchestra teachers — Allison Holden of North Rockford Middle School, Amy Tenney of East Rockford Middle School and founding director Erin DeYoung — to come together for a performance to thank the community for its support and to generate more excitement about the program in the future.

In celebration of our 10th anniversary, your School News Network team will bring you a wide variety of stories that tie to the decade – like the one here. We’ll re-publish each school district’s first stories and update engaging profiles of students and educators. Additional stories will highlight a decade of change in schools and public education. And we welcome your ideas! Just email us at SNN@kentisd.org

Read more from Rockford: 
Rockford High broadcasters earn accolade
Hark! I hear she’s Teacher of the Year

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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