Terry Alexander addressed excited families, on last Thursday evening about the new orchestra program at Catalina Foothills Unified School District elementary schools. The orchestra director is bright and charming, and she exudes joy when talking about teaching music.
“This is my dream to be able to build a program from the bottom up, from elementary all the way,” Alexander said. “I’m constantly learning. I’m always going back to workshops, and I’m fascinated. It’s like a chess game. There’s so many dimensions to teaching.”
The district is starting the school year by launching the fourth and fifth-grade string program, and Alexander has been working all summer to get the program ready to go. Instruments have arrived and classrooms space is reserved for the program’s Aug. 28 start date.
Already, 120 students are registered, and Alexander said she would have considered 100 students a success. She credits district leadership with incredible support.
“A quality orchestra education, as part of a comprehensive arts program, will positively serve more students and further enhance the vibrant arts program currently offered in CFSD,” said Associate Superintendent Mary Jo Conery, in an email.
Conery added that, according to music professors Donald Hamann and Robert Gillespie (who together wrote “Strategies for Teaching Strings: Building a Successful String and Orchestra Program”), “a performing arts program designed to reach the largest number of students is not complete without offering the study of stringed instruments. It is like offering math without including algebra or science without including chemistry.”
Part of CFSD’s Visual and Performing Arts program, the orchestra program is starting at the elementary schools, with a plan to implement it at the middle and high schools in 2018.
Students can bring their own instruments, though there is an option to rent through the program, and the district covers the cost. The schools also provide music books, musician chairs and other instrumental supplies. That way, kids can pick any instrument they want without being concerned about the cost, Alexander said.
A number of the students already have some music experience, so Alexander and district leaders are looking into the possibility of launching an honors orchestra program to better serve the practiced musicians.
“So if they’re not a beginner, they will still have a place to grow and spread their wings,” Alexander said.
The orchestra director taught music in the Marana Unified School District for 31 years, at Marana and Mountain View high schools, many of the elementary schools and one of the middle schools.
“It’s one of the best string programs,” she said of her legacy there.
Many of her Marana students have scored very high in orchestra competitions, she said, and many have gone on to study music in college. Over a dozen student teachers that worked with her there have become music teachers themselves.
Alexander also served as chapter president of the Arizona String Teachers Association since 2012, and was awarded the National Leadership Award in 2014. She is also a violinist in the Tucson Pops Orchestra.
Her two grown children played in orchestra. Her daughter, who is graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in computer science, played violin since she was 5 years old. She recently told Alexander that she has a deeper capacity of creativity in computer science because of her lifelong understanding of music, a sentiment Alexander has heard from many of her students as well.
“It’s going to be phenomenal,” Alexander said, about the new program. “Playing in an orchestra is like flying with a flock of birds through the sky, just soaring. It’s an incredible feeling. I really, truly think it’s a good thing for kids to get that form of expression.”
For more information about the program, go to sites.google.com/a/cfsd16.org/elementary-orchestra-16.