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Local middle school to showcase state's best

Staci Li plays in a line of violins
Staci Li, 14, of Western Albemarle Middle School in Charlottesville, left, plays in a line of violins during Friday's rehearsal for the regional junior orchestra festival being held today at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Audrey Ferguson plays her viola
Audrey Ferguson, 13, of Dunbar Middle School in Lynchburg, plays her viola in a group orchestra rehearsal on Friday. About 140 students from 24 schools from across Virginia will participate. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Israel Yang plays violin
Israel Yang, 12, a student at Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg, plays in a row of violins during the South Central West Junior Regional Orchestra Festival being held this Friday and Saturday at Peter Muhlenburg Middle School in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Guest conductor Martin Gasco
Guest conductor, Martin Gasco, of Chesapeake, shows orchestra students the proper way to hold the bow on Friday at Peter Muhlenburg Middle School. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Preston Knight - pknight@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- For an hour of your time today, you can save about $50, Rebecca Cooper estimates.

Peter Muhlenberg Middle School is hosting the regional junior orchestra festival this weekend, with rehearsal beginning Friday afternoon for the main event at 4:30 p.m. today in the gymnasium.

About 140 seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders from 24 schools, some as far away as Roanoke and Lynchburg, are participating and have been divided into two ensembles, each of which will perform five pieces under the guidance of guest conductors Martin and Alice Glasco, of Chesapeake.

Cooper, Peter Muhlenberg's chorus and orchestra director, is the event's host, the third time she and the school have served in that capacity. For anyone who missed out on the first two, in 2000 and 2005, you're not going to want to make the same mistake again, she said.

"It's like going to a philharmonic concert," Cooper said. "They really sound above high school level. They sound like they should be in a professional recording."

She added that it would cost about $50 to hear this high quality of music live elsewhere.

Jennifer Perry, who directs Central High School's orchestra, called the music "incredible."

"You won't hear anything in the county that sounds this good, for free," she said.

More than 500 students auditioned in Charlottesville in January to gain entry into the festival. Although she participated in the event last year, Brittany Bowman, a violinist from Stonewall Jackson High School, said the auditions were scary. But her fears seemed to have subsided Friday in anticipation of today's performance.

"This is kind of the best of the best from each school," Bowman said. "It's an opportunity to hear what our region has to offer."

One of the perks of being involved in the festival is learning from different conductors, she said. This year, the region's directors selected the Glascos -- Martin Glasco is the former director of the Bay Youth Symphony Concert Orchestra and directs orchestras at a Chesapeake high school while his wife, a founding member of the Chesapeake Quartet, is the director of orchestras at a middle school in the city.

During the early part of Friday's rehearsal, which was expected to last about seven hours and then resume this morning, Martin Glasco told his ensemble that its performance would not only need to be played correctly, but also put forth a vision and a purpose for the audience, telling a story. He asked musicians to sway.

"The more movement, the better," he said.

The ensemble sounded, at least to the untrained ear, as if it had been playing together for more than just an hour. The ability of students from different backgrounds to come together is part of the beauty of the event, directors said. Perry said she could sense the variety of personalities simply based on their dress.

"Some are in jock clothing, some are wearing preppy clothes," she said. "In Shenandoah County, there's not as much diversity in the music programs."

And to many people's listening ears, they may think this weekend's festival will have no different sound than any other middle school concert. Cooper, though, said the students are involved in something well above the norm.

"It's beyond anything they have experienced," she said.


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