String theory: Junior high orchestra to give first performance next month
BULLHEAD CITY — The orchestra at Bullhead City Junior High School will perform for the first time at 7 p.m. on Dec. 13. Students who play in the school’s guitar and percussion ensembles also will perform that evening in the school gymnasium.
Adam Schultheis, the school’s music teacher, has been instructing students at the junior high on how to play stringed orchestral instruments since the start of this school year. He spent 30 years teaching music in Boulder City, Nev., before coming to Bullhead City. He was at Fox Creek Junior High School for a year before being invited to teach at Bullhead Junior High this year so the music program there could offer that type of music education.
“The students have been working very hard and are very excited about showing off their musical talents,” he said Tuesday as students in his 11 a.m. class began arriving.
This type of training includes use of classical string instruments: cellos, violas, violins and string bass. Schultheis spends several minutes tuning each of the more than 20 students’ instruments before each class begins practicing. He does most of his speaking through a microphone so the students can hear him over their playing. He also accompanies them on the piano as they all play.
Students will perform several songs at the Dec. 13 concert, including “Ode To Joy,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Jingle Bells.” The orchestra will be accompanied by Santa Claus, who will play the trombone with them during the sleigh-riding song.
The other ensembles will perform, then all the students will come together for a big finale.
Emilia Gutierrez, 11, said she is looking forward to the concert. She will play string bass for the orchestra.
“It’s a big instrument for a little girl,” she said after getting the bass out of its case and grinning widely. “I’m excited about the performance.”
Angelica Vargas, 11, entered the classroom next and will play the cello for the concert.
“I’ll be ready,” she said with a smile on her face.
Gutierrez and Vargas both sing and can play other instruments. But many of the students have had little musical instruction up to this point. Only a couple of Schultheis’ students even have their own string orchestral instruments.
“That’s because these instruments are expensive,” Schultheis said.
He said he wants the orchestra to look good as well as sound great during its first concert. Black-and-white attire to perform is required. No T-shirts or polos, only button-down shirts. But nice clothes are only part of the visual package for musical performance.
Certain poses during performance are traditional “concert etiquette,” he said. The musicians hold their instruments either in a way to indicate they are amid a concert or fully ready to play right before starting each song.
“Whenever I’m talking to the audience you are always concert ready,” Schultheis told them. “When the audience sees you this way, it looks awesome.”
Getting the motions right takes some practice. The instructor would stop the group and remind them to do it — even if he saw only one student forget or go into the wrong position. He stressed repeatedly that their body movements are as important as playing well because all demonstrate that a group of musicians works comfortably as a team.
And at the end of the concert they bow together: From the waist with their bows in one hand and instruments in the other. They start bowing and come up at the same time.
Schultheis told them to hold the count for as long as it would take to say “one potato, two potato.”
Without that bow the audience might be thinking, he said, “If they didn’t bow, maybe they think they played poorly.”
It’s also how the musicians thank the audience members for coming and applauding them.
Once they get accustomed to the body movements “it looks awesome,” he said.
The ultimate goal is to provide string-instrument training through 12th grade. Mohave High School doesn’t offer it today but the idea is to have it as these students — mostly sixth-graders — move through the public school system and continue receiving instruction until graduating from high school.
He said adding instruction on string instruments would come gradually. The high school has students who perform jazz, in which guitar and bass are part of the ensemble, but the school doesn’t have this type of string orchestral instruction.
The junior high’s holiday concert will follow a spaghetti dinner and silent auction that begins at 6 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the school and its music program. Cost for the meal is $3 each person and $10 per family. Auction items include household items, collectibles, food gift cards, fishing, golf and other sports equipment, and handmade crafts and home-baked goods. Opportunities to pose for pictures with the orchestra and students will cost $1 for each picture.
The school district has spent money on string instruments for the students to play; specifically three string basses, 14 cellos, 17 violas and 30 violins.
Schultheis added that the school is looking for donations of string instruments to expand its supply. Used instruments will be warmly welcomed. Contact him at 928-758-3921.