Bearden Goes ElectricPosted by Josh Flory on 10/8/2018
It may have looked like a typical rehearsal, but the Bearden High School orchestra got some unusual instructions at a practice session on Friday.
“I want to see hair flips galore,” conductor Haydn Vitera told the students. “I want to see a sea of hair.”
Hair flips, bow flourishes and lead singer-style jumps were all part of the choreography for the “Electrify Your Strings” event held at Bearden last week. EYS is a program that pairs musicians like Vitera, formerly of the country band “Asleep At The Wheel,” with schools that are interested in performing a rock orchestra.
Around 120 students from Bearden and West Valley Middle School participated in the event, which included the use of some unusual electric string instruments: a Cobra cello that can be played while standing; a Stingray violin-viola combo; and a five-string Viper violin.
The instruments were created by Mark Wood Violins, whose namesake is also the founder of EYS, and students auditioned for the chance to play them in leading roles at a concert on Friday night.
Cynthia Wright, the orchestra director at BHS and assistant director at West Valley, said she first learned about the EYS program while teaching in Wilmington, N.C., and knew that she wanted to lead something similar one day.
Wright said that the concert was an opportunity for her students to see new possibilities in their instruments, and that she’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from parents.
“From an educational standpoint, it was just such a great way for (students) to get out of the norm for orchestral music,” she added.
At the rehearsal, Vitera took the opportunity to give everything from college-and-career advice to a professional’s view of life on the road, at one point noting that the person running the sound board is the most important member of the team -- they can make a great band sound bad, and a good band sound great.
As they practiced “Any Way You Want It”, by Journey, Vitera reminded students that the audience should never know if they lose the tune, and in a similar vein encouraged them to be aware of the chords behind their specific piece of the song. “When you learn to improvise, you have to know what’s happening underneath what you’re playing,” he said.
Whether it was the rock-ified orchestral instruments on loan from EYS, the drum tracks looped in through Vitera’s iPad or the volume of the traditional orchestra, the sonic punch of the show was impressive from up close.
And for Wright, it provided an opportunity to see her musicians perform from a different point of view. The teacher played the Stingray violin-viola at one point during the Friday night concert, and played in the back of the orchestra for the remainder of the show.
“To have the perspective of getting to be part of my ensemble was both humbling and also really rewarding for me,” she said. “To get to blend in with my students for a change, instead of always being in front conducting.”