From left, Jaeden Altheiser, Carlos Orozco, Mason Burns, William Greiger and Jacob Ward play recorders to accompany the Saratoga Orchestra Wednesday at Oak Harbor Elementary. Third and fourth grade students from Broad View Elementary, Oak Harbor Elementary and Hillcrest Elementary took part in the “Link Up: The Orchestra Rocks” concert. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

The Orchestra Rocks: Jamming with the pros

The crowd roared and everyone raised their hands when asked if they were ready to rock.

It was a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place at rock a concert, but this was no such thing.

The people in the crowd were kids, each with a recorder in hand, ready to play, sing or clap along with members of the Saratoga Orchestra in its performance of “Link Up: The Orchestra Rocks.”

Sarah Russell, itinerant music teacher for Oak Harbor Public Schools, said the students that participated in “Link Up: The Orchestra Rocks” have gained a knowledge of what in means to be part of an orchestra, something that not many students their age get to experience.

The Saratoga Orchestra and students from around Oak Harbor performed “Link Up: The Orchestra Rocks” from 10-11 a.m. Wednesday at Oak Harbor Elementary. The orchestra also brought the program to South Whidbey students Tuesday at South Whidbey High School.

In particular, the students accompanied the orchestra during “Come to Play,” “The Anvil Chorus,” “The Birch Tree” and “O Fortuna,” the last of which the kids sang in Latin.

Larry Heidel, executive director of the Saratoga Orchestra, said he became aware of the Link Up program a few years ago, and saw it as an attractive opportunity that the orchestra could give to students.

So the organization joined Link Up as one of 90 orchestras worldwide. The program, a brainchild of Carnegie Hall’s education department, pairs member orchestras up with students for an interactive concert born of participation and collaboration.

“We thought it would be great to if we could offer it to the students of Whidbey Island and help supplement the music curriculum of the fabulous music teachers on the island,” Heidel said.

Anna Edwards, music director of the Saratoga Orchestra, said the students were beyond impressive.

“Today’s experience was one of the reasons why we become musicians,” Edwards said. “It was an absolute joy to perform with all these young children, who have prepared, who sang beautifully, who played their recorders beautifully and who were enthusiastic the entire performance — it was just very exciting to feel that energy.”

Edwards said the Link Up program, at its heart, is about rhythm. The students learn various rhythm lines that they perform juxtaposed with the composition the orchestra plays.

Renee Hall, music teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary, said the students wouldn’t have been able to realize their roles in the performance without the orchestra’s generosity.

“The Saratoga Orchestra was wonderful at donating all these recorders and these wonderful books,” Hall said, adding that once the students had the materials, they jumped right into the world of music.

“We started our units with the kids,” Hall said of her music students. “We got them learning the recorder, we used the guides, we’ve learned about lots of different composers, we’ve learned how to read music, and we’ve just had an amazing experience.”

On the North End, third and fourth graders from Broad View Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary and Oak Harbor Elementary participated, and on the South End students from South Whidbey Elementary, South Whidbey Academy, Whidbey Island Waldorf School and Calyx Community Arts School participated.

Heidel said “Link Up: The Orchestra Rocks” provided the Saratoga Orchestra with a unique opportunity to increase its connectivity with the communities on the Island.

“One of the issues with a musical ensemble like an orchestra is that our demographics for the audience are much older, so this is one way that we can reach out to the younger ages in the community,” Heidel said.

“This may be the only time that they will attend an orchestra concert, but we hope not.”

Saratoga Orchestra cellists Norma Dermond, left, and James Smith play with the rest of the strings section as part of “Link Up: The Orchestra Rocks,” a Carnegie Hall program that pairs elementary schools with orchestras for collaboration and education. Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News-Times

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