Heritage String Orchestra Qualifies For State Competition With Superior Ratings

Heritage’s orchestra taking part in their workshop with Mark Laycock on stage at Longmont High School after their state qualifier performance. Photo courtesy of Julia Bernzott

   On March 4, 2020, Heritage’s string orchestra traveled to Longmont High School to perform for their state qualifiers. The group, which is made up of roughly 50 students of all grade levels, is no cut, meaning no auditions are required to participate in the class and performances.

Band Director Mr. Garren Cuthrell led the group through their performance and the workshop with guest conductor Mark Laycock, the Director of Orchestras from Wichita State University. Everyone returned to Heritage with high spirits and pride in their performance. The group received all superior ratings for their performance, the highest score possible, and qualified for state, which was to be held in April at CU Boulder. But, due to the Covid-19 outbreak and resulting closures, the state performance was cancelled, leaving the string orchestra without a chance to perform competitively at the state level, which had been unprecedented for this group.

   Despite the cancellation, Mr. Cuthrell believes this group’s journey has been just as rewarding as a state performance could have been.

   “I am blessed in the fact that I believe we made wonderful memories on the journey and the destination wasn’t the end all.  I hope that students feel that there was a lot to be proud of and that we had a blast on a daily basis,” says Mr. Cuthrell.

   These feelings were also shared by the members of the orchestra, primarily this year’s seniors. First violinist Dylan C. ’20 and cellist Giselle B. ’20 have spent all four years of their high school experience as part of Heritage’s orchestra, while also playing as part of the pit orchestra for the musical and chamber orchestra, both for multiple years. They’ve been able to see the orchestra grow over their time, and their pride in it is clear.

   “What contributed to the orchestra’s success was the factor of everyone in the ensemble just being so dedicated to the class itself. Strong or weak, everyone in the orchestra always seemed to be so happy to just be in the class, to maybe see Mr. Cuthrell or just to play their instrument,” says Dylan.

   While Mr. Cuthrell attributes the orchestra’s success to the students and their drive to do well, Giselle finds much of their growth to have come from Mr. Cuthrell’s leadership.

   “Mr Cuthrell was a huge factor in our success. Rehearsal with him is always so fun and engaging, we want to come to class and work hard-and be insulted, it’s all part of it. The skill level of the group as a whole allowed us to play some really fun music and gave Mr Cuthrell more leeway for being his crazy self,” Giselle adds.

   Heritage’s orchestra has faced challenges in the past when compared to other groups at state, as most orchestras require auditions to ensure the whole group can play at the higher skill level often seen at competitions. With Heritage’s orchestra being no-cut, achieving the scores they did is worthy of celebration.

   “It’s a great feeling. This is a non-auditioned group so we take anybody that walks in the door and there is no ‘bench’ in Orchestra. We are all ‘starters’ and that makes this a very special accomplishment. I knew that rehearsal etiquette was outstanding and I just felt like this group believed in themselves and really wanted to be good. We also had some pretty talented upperclassmen that set the tone,” says Mr. Cuthrell.

   Especially in times like these, music is a valuable outlet for many students. The seniors have found community in the orchestra, made only stronger by their recent accomplishments.

   “Nearly all my friends in high school have been in music groups. They’ve been my family at school. Chamber especially has helped me grow as a musician and a person, pushing me out of my comfort zone and allowing me to work more closely with skilled musicians,” Giselle says.

   Dylan saw great improvement in his skills as a result of being part of the orchestra and other instrumental groups, lending most of that success to Mr. Cuthrell as well.

   “Mr. Cuthrell, over the entirety of my four years at Heritage, has taken great liberties to ensure the improvement of everyone in Orchestra by giving us music to play that always increases in difficulty. Ensuring that everyone in my section understands what they’re doing is so important, and this heavy need for leadership helped me improve greatly,” he adds.

   Mr. Cuthrell has said that there are hopes to recognize the orchestra for their state qualification, though plans are unclear due to the uncertainty brought on by the Covid-19 closures. 

   “I hope that students feel that there was a lot to be proud of and that we had a blast on a daily basis.  I love this group from the bottom of my heart so my deepest pain is just not being able to spend time teaching and poking fun at them before, during and after rehearsal,” Mr. Cuthrell says.

   Mr. Cuthrell and the rest of the orchestra are proud of the journey they had together, despite being unable to reach the destination of a state performance. He’s very thankful to this year’s seniors, who he believes took over the program from the moment they walked in as freshmen. Both Giselle and Dylan express how much they enjoyed their time playing with this group, sharing this sentiment with the seniors in each section of the orchestra.

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