To support school orchestras, TFO teaches the teachers

By Kaitlin Springer, TFO Viola Teaching Artist

Kaitlin Springer

When Meghan Lance took over as the orchestra director at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School, she had her work cut out for her.

“I remember my first year thinking that the orchestra sounded like The Sister Act choir of orchestras. They were all playing at different times, horribly out of tune, I was like, ‘What is happening?!’“ Mrs. Lance said.

Trained as a singer and chorus teacher, Mrs. Lance knew music, but guiding an orchestra was a big leap. She was a great candidate for The Florida Orchestra’s Teaching Artist Partnership Program, a resource for school orchestras in conjunction with Pinellas County schools.

For the first year of the program in 2017, Mrs. Lance worked closely with my colleague, TFO Teaching Artist and violinist Kristin Baird. She got regular classroom visits, private music lessons, and learned how to teach strings from a real pro. Baird spent half of her time in the schools, and the other half on stage with The Florida Orchestra.

That’s what makes TFO’s two Teaching Artists unique. As professional performing musicians, we spend a lot of time demonstrating artistic excellence so that students will understand just how beautiful a stringed instrument can sound. We hope to inspire students to continue playing and appreciating music. That’s the biggest impact we can make.

This year, the second year of the program, I’m following up with Mrs. Lance and her orchestra classes. It’s a great place to be. Mrs. Lance’s classroom is like a home away from home, where learning music is not only about playing an instrument but about learning valuable life lessons that help students grow into well-rounded adults.

Mrs. Lance remembers how music can have a big impact on kids. For her, it all started at church in the children’s choir. But her first musical spark came in the first grade when her friend played the piano in her class. “I got hooked on piano in that moment,” Lance said. “I wanted to take lessons desperately. I begged my parents for lessons, and in third grade I started taking piano lessons.”

Just like that, a lifelong passion was sparked without Mrs. Lance even realizing it. That same spark is happening every day in classrooms and concert halls. The initial exposure to music is important, but continued music education is vital so students can be inspired and find their own passion in the arts.

A big part of the TFO program is teaching the teachers, but students benefit the most. TFO encourages partner schools to play in the lobby before concerts as well as attend orchestra performances.

“They love it,” Mrs. Lance said. “They loved performing at the Coffee concert … And they love that Ms. Kristin visits the classroom and then they get to see her play in the orchestra. They absolutely enjoy having the Teaching Artists come in and work with us!”

Thurgood Marshall in St. Petersburg is one of the three Partner Schools that I will be working with this year.  I have visited at least 15 other schools, and I am working on getting to know more of the teachers and classes in Pinellas County. I am absolutely thrilled with what I have seen so far. There are so many orchestra programs and all of the teachers are incredibly passionate about what they do.

For Mrs. Lance, the TFO partnership has paid off where it matters. “The knowledge I’ve gained, and that these kids have received as a result of these teaching artists has, in my opinion, been immeasurable. … We went from The Sister Act sounding orchestra to last year gaining superiors at MPA. I couldn’t have done it without the partnership.”

For more on The Florida Orchestra’s Teaching Artist Program, click here.

Header image: Mrs. Lance demonstrates techniques for her orchestra students at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School.

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