ECHS Symphony Orchestra heading to state finals

Throughout the halls of Elkhart Central, the music of masters greets students, staff, and guests – music of composers like Aram Khachaturian, Edvard Grieg, and Camille Saint-Saens – as it is masterfully performed by Elkhart Central High School’s Symphony Orchestra preparing for their performance at State Finals.

This is the ninth time in the past ten years Elkhart Central High School’s Symphony Orchestra has advanced to State Finals. The ECHS orchestra will be one of eight competing for the state title.

“It’s nice when we perform our best and receive recognition,” says orchestra director Kyle Weirich, “but the most important aspect of our orchestra is truly bringing together a group of students to make music. It means a lot to our students to know their work is outstanding, to know they are playing with the best orchestras in the state and country. Our students are proud to represent Elkhart Central, as well as the Elkhart community.”

For many students, this will be their third and last time performing at the state finals.

“When you are all finished performing, the feeling in your heart is overwhelming,” says senior violist Alexus Joiner. “It’s been months of practice and hard work, just to come down to one moment. The emotions and the amazing feeling at the end are completely worth it.” Alexus says one of the biggest takeaways she has from performing with the orchestra is problem solving. Playing the viola, she often has to switch from alto clef to treble clef – something that takes a higher level of music knowledge. Alexus plans to attend Indiana University Bloomington and study Fine Arts, with a minor in American Sign Language.

For Mariah Guillaume, a senior violinist, music was a part of her upbringing. “Both of my grandparents were involved with music, as was my dad,” says Mariah. “I started playing music when I was a second grader under my grandma’s guidance. A few years later, I saw a violin and knew I wanted to play violin.” For Mariah, music is a part of her everyday life. “Participating in music is a good way to make friends. We can all relate to each other.” Mariah plans to head to IUSB to study Music Education.

Still, for others, the road to this success has been a struggle. Says Giovanni Parga, a senior violinist, “Growing up, I wasn’t great at sports. I struggled to find something I excelled at – and then I found music. Performing at this level, making it to state, I feel like I must be great. We all must be great.” Giovanni credits his successful pursuit of music to personal struggles he’s faced with his family and self-esteem. “My brother has made some bad choices, and I’ve stepped up to help raise my niece. I want to succeed in life and make my family proud. Music is a tunnel to hope. It gives motivation when you feel down.” Giovanni is heading to Indiana University Bloomington this fall to study Biochemistry or Neuroscience, on a full academic scholarship, and hopes to travel and save lives around the world.

“Music is essential for kids in Elkhart, and any other community,” says Weirich. “It’s part of the fabric of the community with our musical instrument manufacturers and the Lerner Theatre. For any student, a music curriculum is unique and stands apart from other fields of study. The skills students learn in music – how to work hard, how to collaborate, how to struggle and overcome – these are skills that will help them throughout their lives.”

For Palmer Vu, a senior violinist, playing in the ECHS symphony orchestra has opened his eyes to the world of orchestra and classical music. “Some of my favorites are Beethoven and Debussy – Clair De Lune.” He also finds a great challenge in going to state finals for three years, saying that as a senior, he is out to work harder than ever before, and to prove he is the best he’s ever been. Palmer plans on auditioning for the orchestra at Purdue University, where he will be studying Pre-Med.

Weirich credits many attributes for the success of the ECHS symphony orchestra program. First and foremost, he credits his assistant directors – Jeffrey Hatfield and Kyle Miller. Not only do Hatfield and Miller help his students in a team teaching setting during the last period of the day, but they also teach middle school students – Hatfield at North Side and Miller at Pierre Moran. “We have amazing feeder middle school programs. The work from both Hatfield and Miller is incredible – their students work hard from day one. When they arrive at Elkhart Central, students are ready to excel because of the expectations and level of performance they’ve experienced in middle school.”

Weirich also credits the exceptional band program at Elkhart Central, and the students who perform in both the band and the orchestra. He credits outstanding support from administration – both in his building and at the district level – saying that teachers are consistently provided the tools they need to help students succeed. Support from parents and boosters also play a huge part in the success of ECHS orchestra program, by providing volunteers and cheering sections, but also by providing financial assistance for private lessons for students.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, he credits the amazing student musicians. “The level of participation from our students is extraordinary. They attend extra rehearsals, they attend evening rehearsals. At our qualifying event, they performed exceptionally well – it was the best they’ve played all year. It was enjoyable to see their hard work pay off.”

“Music provides so much for our students,” says Weirich. “It gives them a chance to come together and bond in a family environment. It helps our students forget about their other struggles. We’re all here to play music. We all have the same common goal – make good music and have fun while doing it.”

We’re extremely proud to have the ECHS symphony orchestra representing Elkhart on May 6, as they perform in the State Finals at Pike High School.