Defying recession woes, a music director establishes a period ensemble at a California public school- roll over, Beethoven!
Angelo Moreno's new 11 am orchestra class fills quickly with chatty juniors and seniors on the northeast end of Davis Senior High School in Davis, California. Some students don flip-flops, tank tops, and cargo shorts, while others wear the school's signature basketball shorts to beat the Central Valley's withering heat on this late September morning. While the students arrange music stands and pull instruments from lockers, Moreno greets each with an easy smile from the front of the room.
It's a familiar scene for Moreno.
The veteran teacher has spent the past ten years teaching in the Davis public-school district and has built up a massive high-school orchestra program, which last year included both a full-size orchestra and a smaller chamber orchestra to accommodate 144 students. But what the students are learning in Performing Arts Room No. 3 is far from the norm.
True to its name, the DHS Baroque Orchestra covers music from 1600-1750 on nearly 30 modified violins, violas, cellos, and basses while using Baroque bows. A harpsichord is thrown in for good measure. That this program exists at all, and that it was created in the midst of a recession, might be mind boggling to other highschool orchestra directors. But to senior violist Jesse Simons, playing Baroque music on gut strings is "to put it shortly, it's just cool."
This is the sort of response Moreno had banked on when he proposed in 2008 to add the Baroque ensemble to Davis High's orchestra program. "I think the idea of playing Baroque music and introducing the style of instruments were big draws for kids," Moreno says. "Sort of like jazz band [is] to the band program. It's a totally unique thing."
For funding, Moreno approached the Davis Schools Orchestral Music Association, a nonprofit organization made up of parent boosters and volunteers. It wasn't a tough seU to Hiram Jackson, who sits on the DSOMA board, because he and Moreno performed together in the Baroque ensemble during graduate school at the University of California, Davis. "This style is like wordsmithing for music," Jackson says. "Every bow stroke means something. It gets down to a more detailed level of playing that normauy in other orchestra classes you don't get."
Historically, DSOMA has been a great aUy to Moreno. Just two years ago, he and other teachers were pink-slipped and the cash-strapped district's entire elementary music program was put in jeopardy because of deep state funding cuts. DSOMA stepped in and, along with other booster organizations, raised $230,000 to effectively buy back the program and teachers for the district while a parcel tax was being established to raise public funding. …