Fine Tuning Talent

Fine Tuning Talent

When should students be offered the option to play in orchestra? According to Kara Ortiz, Director of Orchestras at Harpool Middle School (as well as the three Lantana elementary schools), the sooner a student learns a stringed instrument, the better.

“The sooner the fine motor skills begin making a connection to the brain the faster they can progress,” said Ortiz who is in her 5th year of teaching at Harpool. “This is especially true for stringed instruments.”
As a Specials (elective) class, all three Lantana elementary schools offer orchestra classes to 5th graders. These classes are offered during the day, two days a week, and students may then start learning to play the violin, viola, cello or bass. At Harpool, the orchestra class meets every day, five days a week.

All of the hard work and practice has paid off as the Harpool Orchestra has consistently earned first division superior ratings in their competitions including the UIL Concert and Sight Reading Competition and the Peak Music Festival. The orchestra also placed first when they competed at the 2013 National Orchestra Festival Competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

Assistant Director Ryan Napier encourages the kids via social media to help them level up, just like a video game, by challenging themselves every day. He has them draw their brain brackets (brackets around certain measure that they need to place additional focus) and thinking boxes (areas that needs extra attention), so they learn early on how to practice efficiently.

“This is to show students they can always continue to be better musicians,” said Napier. “Once they reach a certain level on their music, we celebrate their achievement and then point them to ways they can continue to advance their playing. We show them ways to “level up,” just like playing a video game.”

Harpool had one student who was especially nervous preparing to play a solo for the Denton ISD Solo and Ensemble Competition. The student was having a tough time with self-confidence, but was encouraged by peers, Ms. Ortiz and Mr. Napier to practice a lot and simulate performances before the actual event. This student performed for friends and other teachers in the school, which lead to some “light bulb” moments and more confidence. The student was able to confidently play their solo at the competition and earned a “Superior” 1st Division score.

“The self-confidence that is built carries over to other subjects and other parts of their lives, too,” Ortiz pointed out.

Ortiz and Napier can’t emphasize enough the amount of benefits that can be achieved by learning orchestra at this age.

“Playing music stretches your brain in ways that other subjects can’t,” she said. “It also gives students an outlet to express emotion without the need to be verbal.”

As a child, Ortiz was shy and found it very hard to verbally communicate. Playing an instrument was a way for her to really tap into her emotions. Just like when a favorite song comes on, it lifts the mood.

When asked what’s the best part about playing an instrument? According to Ortiz, it is that there is no age limit.

“Learning to play an instrument is a skill that you can take with you throughout life,” she said. “You can learn to play and continue to enjoy playing at any age. “

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