Starting this fall, music students in Langley will have a new platform to learn and perform “the great works of the masters.”
The Langley School District Honour Orchestra, created and conducted by Langley Fine Arts music teacher Rob Goddard, is the first initiative of its kind in the district for more than 30 years.
Tailored particularly to string players, the orchestra offers an elevated education not currently available in Langley’s public schools.
“My idea for a district initiative was based on the supposition that there’s string players lurking out there in the high schools that go, well, why would I join the band? Band isn’t composed for strings, why would I join the choir? Because, again, limited opportunities for string players in a choir. So I wanted to create an opportunity for those imbedded string players to play in an orchestra,” said Goddard, who has been teaching in Langley for 31 years.
“It’s about meeting the needs of the learners, and I think there are learners out there who need, and deserve, an opportunity to play in an orchestra.”
The goal is to create a full orchestra of 50 to 60 students — complete with strings, wind and percussion — who would be able to play complex pieces such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.
The first round of auditions were held late in June, with a second round set for the fall. Any student in Langley with a recommended three or more years of experience on their instrument is welcome to try out.
Similar orchestra groups exist at the Langley Community Music School, the Surrey Youth Orchestra, the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra, but there hasn’t been a program like this in Langley’s public schools since the late 1970s, or early 1980s, Goddard said.
There is no cost for students to join, they get school credits, and they will receive expert instruction from Goddard — who plays trumpet and piano professionally and has performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Victoria Symphony — as well as the world-renowned Borealis String Quartet. Kwanten Polytechnic University is also partnering with the group.
“Culturally, there’s a perception that an orchestra is rather esoteric, and not accessible to children, and I call BS on that, because it absolutely is,” Goddard said.
“I don’t want this to be about the haves and have-nots. I do want this to be elite, but not elite in the negative sense. Everybody always seems to misuse that word, in my opinion. Elite doesn’t mean exclusionary.”
Although there isn’t enough funding for separate junior and senior orchestras to accommodate different levels of students, Goddard said he will be taking an approach similar to the teaching method used by the El Sistema Orchestra in Venezuela.
This group began more than two decades ago with a handful of students who were taught to play the violin, for free, to encourage them to stay away from violence and weapons. It is now one of the most revered youth orchestras in the world.
“They’ve developed a system where you don’t have to wait until you are 18 to play Beethoven No. 5. Say you’ve only taken violin for three years, but you’re a hard worker. So what I’m going to do, I’m going to modify your part. So you’re not able to play up this high yet, so you don’t play that part. But you can play this, and it’s a little simpler, so it doesn’t minimize some of the other stronger kids. It supports them and makes it possible for you at a young age to play great repertoire,” Goddard said.
“So this is the way I’ve been operating the Fine Arts orchestra. Rather than dumbing it down, or accommodating the lowest common denominator, I try to work everything up to make it possible so that everyone can have a good experience.
“This El Sistema is a model that I like very much because it facilitates a great range of abilities, all into one group.”
Eventually, Goddard hopes to start violin and cello programs in some of the younger grades, and to create more orchestras within Langley schools.
“My goal is to have a class set of violins, a class set of cellos, a class set of double basses, so that everyone who wishes to learn can learn, not based on economics,” he said.
“Here we are in your backyard, it’s free, and you get a ministry credit for it, which I think is pretty cool.”
To find out more on the honour orchestra, contact Goddard at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/langleyhonourorchestra.