SJHS orchestra program to compete in national competition

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — After three months of dedication, about two dozen St. Joseph High School students will put the fruits of their labor on display Friday.

The St. Joseph High School Chamber Ensemble leaves for Pittsburgh on Thursday morning for a six-hour drive to the National Orchestra Festival.

Burke Lokey, orchestra director for the ensemble, said they will compete against 14 other schools in their category. These other students come from highs schools in California, Texas, Ohio and New York.

“The students are thrilled to be a part of this. They’ve worked tremendously hard in class as well as on their own after school,” Lokey said. “A lot of this competition will be from bigger schools with huge programs. This is great to chance to represent not only the school but out whole community.”

The competition is part of the American String Teacher Association, which the district’s orchestra program has taken part in once before when they traveled to Atlanta in 2012.

Since the annual competition was closer this year, Lokey said they decided to take part again.

“I teach the kids from sixth grade until they are seniors,” he said. “I could see this group coming for a few years. I knew they would be ready for something like this.”

Bean Klusendorf is an English teacher at the high school and a parent chaperone for the ensemble, which will be joining the students in Pittsburgh for Friday and Saturday.

Most of the kids in the ensemble have been her students at some point. Her son was in the orchestra during the ensemble’s first trip to the competition. Now her daughter will go during the school’s second trip.

“Being at the competition means I’ll be seeing them at their very best,” Klusendorf said. “I love the concerts, but the competitions are when they are energized and ready to be their very best.”

Among the 24 students in the orchestra, they range in age from 10th to 12th grade. The ensemble will have four pieces to play from that will run a total playing time between 30 and 40 minutes.

“For a school of our size, this is a phenomenal opportunity,” Klusendorf said. “It’s really unusual for a public school our size to have a program at this caliber in the first place.”

The four pieces of music the ensemble will play Friday includes sets from Antonio Vivaldi, Antonin Dvorak, Edvard Grieg and a modern piece by John Corigliano.

The pieces were chosen by Lokey, who teaches orchestra at the high school in the morning and at the middle school in the afternoon.

“They are real works of music. This is professional-level music,” Lokey said Wednesday. “Rehearsing a piece is like painting. There’s always little things we can work on. We recorded a video last night and I’ve been making notes. I knew this group would be able to do this. They are playing as a unit, which is hard to do.”

The students who make up the ensemble had a chance to test out their finished product Tuesday night, when they played their set at the Box Factory.

Klusendorf referred to the send-off concert as “a final run through for preparation.”

While in Pittsburgh, students will take some classes put on by various professors as part of the national festival. One of the classes includes jam sessions with other students in the country.

“I like competition, but the reason we do this is because of the preparation they’ve done. That’s the meat of it. Everything else is icing on the cake,” Lokey said. “In a time when (fine) arts are a little bit under appreciated, we are lucky to be in a community that supports the arts. These kids are taking these instruments that are not an iPad and are creating magic with them.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 2, 2017)

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