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Middle school stringed orchestra steals the show at WCSD State of Education address

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On Jan. 28, the Golden Strings—a strings orchestra comprised of more than two dozen Billinghurst Middle School students—stole the show when they opened the Washoe County School District’s virtual 2021 State of Education address with their rendition of “Galaxy Jam,” recorded on Zoom with piano and drum accompaniment.

It’s basically a version of the song “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” done in minor. The rendition had a rock ’n’ roll feel and an improvised middle section during which two students performed—Veena Ryan on cello and Nick Hilson on Violin—while the other students did an improvised percussion background by knocking on their instruments.

Caryn Neidhold is the Golden Strings director. In the video of the Golden Strings’ performance, she can be seen in the bottom center pane, directing as the students play their instruments in panes around her in a scene that was very much reminiscent of the “Brady Bunch”—except with, like, four times the people.

Neidhold, who’s been a musician since she herself was a school child, has taught in the WCSD since 2008. She explained what it’s been like to work with young musicians during a pandemic that necessitates social distancing and keeps her advanced Golden Strings orchestra and other string orchestras—three sixth grade, two seventh grade and one eighth grade—from meeting as full ensembles for practice and learning.

Neidhold said that, overall, her young musician students have adapted well to hybrid and full distance learning models. She said to arrange for the Golden Strings’ State of Education performance was a unique challenge.

“Videoing is actually very challenging because you think you’re doing fine,” she said. “In the live performance you’re surrounded by people—and if you play a couple of wrong notes it gets kind of washed away with the people around you. But, when you video yourself, you might be like, ‘Oh, I missed that part. … I’ve got to do it again.’”

The Golden Strings’ performance was pieced together from separate students’ video recorded performances, and Neidhold said some students reported re-recording their parts nearly a dozen times before being satisfied with them. She said she’s proud of this level of dedication and of the work her students have put in throughout the last year. Now, like other educators, she’s looking to the future and hoping the best for school funding as the district waits to see what kinds of decisions will be made at the local, state and federal levels.

“Our state is facing some big challenges,” Neidhold said. “Our school district is facing some big challenges. And while it might be easy to look at the programs that go beyond reading, writing and arithmetic as ‘extra,’ they are not actually extra. To me it’s like plaid fabric, where each thread that goes through it is important in creating the whole [pattern]. So, yes, reading, writing and arithmetic are very important—but the whole child is important.”

The full State of Education address is online at https://youtu.be/pM2BEB0VABE or the WCSD website.

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Jeri Chadwell
Jeri Chadwellhttp://thisisreno.com
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.

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