The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

LAHS string orchestra attends MVHS’s first-ever Spring Festival

Kathleen Zhu
Adjudicator David Adams conducts a piece played by the LAHS string orchestra.

Mountain View High School held its first Spring Festival in its theater on Thursday, March 28. Music group participants included the MVHS symphonic band, string orchestra, chamber orchestra and wind ensemble, led by MVHS band and orchestra teacher Ricky Alegria. They were joined by Los Altos High School’s string orchestra, led by LAHS orchestra teacher Johanna Nilsson. Three invited adjudicators — Robin Kramer, Steve Barnhill and David Adams — also conducted at the festival.

Each music group received a score after examination by the adjudicators, though the purpose of the festival was to enrich the students with new interpretations of music rather than to receive a point-value score. The adjudicators were all retired music teachers who brought their own musical knowledge to the festival.

After playing their pieces with their music teacher as a conductor, each group received written and verbal feedback from all adjudicators and received special attention from their assigned adjudicator. In 20-minute personalized sessions, the assigned adjudicator broke down the piece, working with the students to correct any flaws.

“I think kids are far more capable than they think they are,” Kramer said. “If you can give them the tools, inspire them, believe in them and encourage them, then making music isn’t a skill, it’s a joy.”

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The judges all use the same rubric, but having three sets of fresh sets of ears can highlight areas of improvement that often go unnoticed during class. Sometimes, this new advice directly contradicts what their music teachers have said.

“I love the contradictions,” Nilsson said. “I tell the kids, ‘Hey, if the adjudicator says, “Don’t do it this way,” even though I just told you to do it that way, listen to them and just try it. Go in with a completely open mind.’”

Multiple interpretations are possible in music. Nilsson says this flexibility and receptivity to new feedback is a “really good skill for students to have going into college, going into the workforce and going into life itself.” According to Kramer, this variety of advice can be combined to make the piece come alive.

“The life skill there is to just try it and see,” Nilsson said. “That interpretation might be cooler or it might not be our cup of tea, but we don’t know until we try it.”

Nilsson’s love for and perspective on music greatly resonates with that of Kramer, her former music teacher, who taught at MVHS 46 years ago.

“You put your interpretation out into the world, and people take what works for them at the time,” Kramer said. “That’s the joy of teaching. I loved every day that I was a teacher, and I’m loving coming back for a bit.”

The Spring Festival is not only a gathering of musicians, but also a heartwarming reunion of old friends, such as Nilsson and Kramer as well as Alegria, Adams and Barnhill.

“​​Especially when the instructor is a former student whom I nurtured and loved in and made music with, and now she’s here as the director, it’s a joy,” Kramer said. “It’s like seeing your own kid do something spectacular, you know? There is no better joy.”

Adjudicator David Adams audio records his comments and notes for MVHS Wind Ensemble. (Kathleen Zhu)

It is also a joy for adjudicators when students begin to see music in another way.

“Even hearing the feedback given to other groups helps me listen to our wind ensemble in a really different way,” MVHS percussion player senior Lauren Chi said.

“You could tell the students were thinking about the music in different ways,” MVHS music teacher Ricky Alegria said. “The growth was definitely tangible.”

This growth may not be immediate.

“Lessons aren’t always understood when they’re given,” Kramer said. “Sometimes a student will send me a letter or Facebook message 10 years later saying, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t understand what you were saying before, but now that I have kids of my own, I finally get it.’”

Another helpful aspect of receiving an adjudicator’s advice is that it reinforces what music teachers have already said.

“A lot of the time, I say the same thing over and over again to my students, and they’re sick of hearing it, so they tune it out,” Nilsson said. “When I tell them to play loud during a section, they don’t. But as soon as somebody else comes in front of them and says, ‘Play loud here,’ all of a sudden, they play loud.”

The adjudicators each have their own style of teaching, some working with each orchestral section while others focus on an individual player. Regardless of how they teach, it’s reinforcing and encouraging.

“The joy of helping them realize their potential is to do it in a way that makes them want to succeed, not something that tears them apart,” Kramer said.

As part of his section, Barnhill had focused on improving one particular student, MVHS trombone player senior Nate Jones.

“His goal is to make us sound as good as possible, and I know that my goal is to sound as good as possible,” Jones said. “He gave me a lot of confidence and motivated us to put more energy into music, play louder, stronger and better.”

Former Mountain View resident and Spring Festival audience member Jenny Panighetti recalls her experience as a band kid.

LAHS String Orchestra performs the last piece of the night. (Kathleen Zhu)

“I don’t remember my band ever having that opportunity,” Panighetti said. “It was really neat to see the change in the kids because of the adjudicators and how much they appreciated the presence of all of us here. It was a great community event to come out to.”

“Music is a gift you give to your audience,” Kramer said. “And when you give something, it makes you feel good inside. That’s the whole purpose of music, right? Music expresses what words just can’t grasp.”

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Kathleen Zhu
Kathleen Zhu, Staff Writer

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