school partners with symphony
Ariz. - What began as a simple request to start an orchestra at
the local high school has progressed into some sweet music for freshman
15, Norris, while in the sixth grade, wrote a three-sentence letter
to the Desert Eagle Secondary School (DESS) in his home Salt River
Pima-Maricopa Community. His motive was simple. He wanted to emulate
one of his favorite musicians, Emily Erwin of the country western
band the Dixie Chicks.
just three years however, Norris talents have him focusing
on classical pieces rather than country tunes. This ninth grader
has become the first student from DESS to take his skills outside
the classroom as a first violinist for the Arizona Youth Symphony
(AYS) based in neighboring Phoenix.
knows hes bucking traditional teenage musical choices. "Most
of the people are into sports and arent into that music [classical]
because its less popular." In his spare time he eschews
basketball for the Boston Pops. "Classical is better than other
music, like rap, because that has cuss words."
the music department at DESS is Chris Wakley, whose résumé
includes graduate work in opera at the prestigious Juilliard School
in New York City.
years ago he returned to teaching and was permitted the opportunity
to start a choir at Desert Eagle with kids who he knew had limited,
if any, formal background in singing.
he set about a rigorous schedule that including a Christmas concert
within six weeks. While some kids dropped out, 22 applied for the
program the following year which then incorporated instruments.
"We started a music program for kids who didnt know a
note from a beat," Wakley said laughing about the musical genesis
at the school.
those humble beginnings, a half-decade later Desert Eagles
orchestra is playing alongside the citys best professional
musicians. In what is believed a first for an Indian school in the
country, DESS has partnered with the Phoenix Symphony creating One
Nation, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
the past two years, symphony members have provided one-on-one lessons
with the students in Salt River on a weekly basis. Tutoring Norris
is violinist Lenore Wilkison, whos been part of the Phoenix
Symphony since 1976. Wilkison said her prodigy is "attentive
to detail" and has noticed the rise in his skills since he
joined the AYS back in the fall.
really saw quickly a marked improvement in all of his playing based
on having been challenged and approaching the music intuitively,"
she said about the benefits of practicing with other talented youth
from across the state. "The only way kids can be here is that
they have to outsmart the music and need to be less methodical."
Nation wrapped up for the year with an annual concert performed
by the Phoenix Symphony at the Scottsdale Community College, the
campus located on tribal lands. More than 200 attended the event
on Feb. 29 including 17 students from the schools advanced
orchestra relishing the chance to play along with the pros during
a piece. While Mozarts four-minute "Overture to the Marriage
of Figaro" was re-written to allow the DESS performers an easier
time, for Norris the joy of being on stage was pure rapture.
was kind of nervous and anxious to play with them with the audience
watching," he said. "It was something that no other school
or person hardly gets to do."
Norris and his classmates share in the excitement of a professional
atmosphere, his teacher emphasized the importance of having the
Phoenix Symphony reach out to the community. Especially in Salt
River where otherwise classical music had no presence, One Nation
is a perk that can be appreciated by older students.
12 years-old, were getting them for the first time but I have
to teach them like kindergarteners," Wakley said respectfully.
"For 7th and 8th graders, theyre not jumping up and down
excited [like younger learners]."
Norris has performed with a renowned urban symphony, his more immediate
success is with his peers. Conductor of the Arizona Youth Symphony,
Steven Bardin praised Norris for his dedication and preparedness.
At AYS, Bardin explained, its goal is to perform original scores
with few compromises or changes.
the ages of the performers, all of whom are under 20 and must audition
to join, for a recent concert AYS played an exhaustive trio of pieces,
including Mozarts "Overture to Don Giovanni", Greigs
"Peer Gynt Suite #1" and Beethovens "7th Symphony."
difficulty of the literature and the polished state of the performances
are as professional as we can get," said Bardin, whose choice
of music is unrepentant.
summer approaching, Norris is preparing for his annual pilgrimage
to a music camp located at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Constantly surfing the Internet for information on colleges with
music programs, hes intrigued by Dartmouth College in New
students at Desert Eagle will look forward to the 2004 school year
when they move into a new music department. In addition, three more
students are expected to try out with the Arizona Youth Symphony
hoping to follow in Norris successful footsteps.
shows that if one person can do it, they all can," said Wakley.
thought Leo was gifted but theyve learned that if you practice,
they can have a shot."