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Beaver Lake Middle School Orchestra Featured at State Music Conference

Director Marianna Vail and students practice

It’s nearly time for sixth period at Beaver Lake Middle School, and the hallway near the music rooms is abuzz with students carrying instruments. Inside Marianna Vail’s classroom, members of the Sinfonia Orchestra are getting ready for one of their final rehearsals before performing at the Washington Music Educators Association conference in Yakima.  

“This is such an honor to be asked to perform at this event,” said Vail, the orchestra director at BLMS. “Once in a lifetime!”  

After settling in their seats, members of the orchestra tune their instruments and participate in fun warm-up exercises, such as trying to play with their bows upside down. Then they move on to refining the pieces they’ll play in Yakima. Vail is energetic, encouraging the students to play pizzicato, to focus in on a tricky piece of a song, or to emphasize the dynamics. She also asks the students to think about the feeling that they want to create with each song in the performance. For the first piece, as an example, “O Desayo,” she shares: “This is a party – we're inviting people to come! We want to make that audience feel super welcome as they’re coming in!”   

During the next song, Vail asks the students to “Tell a story with your bow, with your vibrato!” They spend time thinking about the tempo of the piece, their bow lifts and the length of their notes – staccato (short) and legato (long).  

Eighth-grader Heidi F., has played the viola for about three years, and says she loves it. “It’s such a beautiful instrument, and I would never want to play anything else. I still remember back at the start of sixth grade, when Ms. Vail was having us all choose our instruments, and she told us something that’s stuck with me ever since: ‘Don’t pick the instrument that you think will be the easiest, pick the one whose sound speaks the most to you.’ … The moment I heard the viola, I knew it was what I wanted to play.”   

 “The way that the valiant vibrations flew off the strings, how it rang in the air and played in my ears even after the room had gone silent, captivated me,” said Heidi. Just after her love of the viola itself comes her appreciation for orchestra. “I love how we can look at a few black lines and dots on a page and create a song that can make someone be moved; make them smile, cry, maybe even jump up at the end as their bodies are filled with so much excitement and energy as the exhilaration of it all lifts them. ... My favorite part of orchestra (is) doing it together as a whole with each of our beautiful sounds, and being able to move others with our music.”    

Heidi and fellow orchestra member Kate Y. agreed that their performance for the state music educator association is a huge opportunity for their group. 

Kate said she is most looking forward to performing “Irish Party in Third Class.” “It’s the song in ‘Titanic’ where Jack and Rose dance in that party in third class! ‘Titanic’ is one of my favorite movies, and I was just delighted to practice this piece with Mrs. Vail and my fellow classmates. This piece is also so joyful and buzzes with the spirit of exciting youth.” 

Sinfonia performed today in Yakima for the Washington Music Educators Association. Orchestra and other music programs throughout the district are partially supported through levy dollars from the Educational Programs and Operations (EP&O) Levy. A replacement EP&O levy to continue the supportive funding for orchestra along with other music programs and positions not fully funded by the state, is one of three education funding measures on the April 26 Special Election ballot.