What happens when a child falls off their bike? They cry, but they get up, make a few adjustments, and try again. You must learn from what happens in the past but what’s done is done and what matters is what happens next. A person can choose to either give up and accept failure or proverbially “make lemonade out of the lemons.” COVID-19 was like that rock that caused the child to fall off his bike because whether he saw it coming or not, it was unavoidable.
The AVPA String Orchestra was something that COVID-19 took away but the music lived and played on thanks to two fantastic Culver City residents.
Culver City High School’s Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (AVPA) String Orchestra began originally as a student led quartet until 2009 when CCUSD parent, Dr. Tania Fleischer agreed to work with them. She recruited high schoolers and capable middle schoolers from CCUSD schools and expanded that quartet into a string chamber ensemble of around 12 students. By 2019, the orchestra was a thriving and growing program with around 35-40 students; high schoolers, middle schoolers, and community members, that performed both classic and contemporary pieces. The orchestra and select chamber groups have brought enjoyment and festive music to high school events, senior centers, community events, and community meetings. Six years ago with the support of Dr. Tony Spano, creative director of AVPA Music, Dr. Fleischer began an expansion of the string orchestra to a full orchestra, adding 15-20 wind, brass and percussion players.
As a conductor, Dr. Fleischer’s mission was refreshing. She focused on process rather than result. She helped students become creative problem solvers, to be curious about the world, curious about how music works, and to make connections with the knowledge they’ve gained. Students were encouraged and rewarded for personal innovation and demonstration of skills based upon individual expression. Prior to COVID, the orchestra was an after school program and Dr. Fleischer hopes the energy and enthusiasm for the AVPA Orchestra could eventually be a catalyst for a vibrant orchestral program at CCHS during the school day. She feels strongly that “for CCUSD to truly achieve its equity goals, administrators, parents and students must insist on high-quality, comprehensive arts education, taught by well qualified and highly skilled, passionate educators during the school day, as a core subject.”
As many students in the orchestra did not take private instruction, Dr. Fleischer sought out professionals who could help students with the technical demands of their instruments. She reached out to the community and found Mrs. Amy Martin. Mrs. Martin is an incredible violinist and violist, married to a cellist, with three talented CCUSD children who also play instruments. Mrs. Martin volunteered during rehearsals by doing sectionals, which is when a section of the orchestra isolates their part from the other parts to work it in detail. She helped break down the music, helped students practice it correctly, worked on technique and expression, and gave students more confidence to then play it with the group.
These two women had brought beautiful music to Culver City when COVID-19 struck and the school closure cut off a valuable outlet for musical expression for many CCUSD students. An orchestra was impossible to run because members play so close together, some students couldn’t access their instruments, and groups over 10 were not allowed to congregate.
But, the “orchestra” played on! Mrs. Martin and a group of students brought back the orchestra when everyone thought they had lost their music. “Music in the Park” became a regular Wednesday afternoon event. The students wore masks, stood six feet apart with their own stands and sanitized their hands constantly. In such a guarded and limited lifestyle, playing music was good not only for the students but good for the community. People brought lawn chairs, some just stopped by to listen as they happened upon the event, and neighborhood parents who were out with their children identified the musician as models to aspire to be. Studies have found that music activates parts of the brain that positively contribute to improved mood. Music therapy has been found to be effective for persons who suffer from such disorders as Alzheimer’s Disease. Music therapy has evidence for contributing to improved sleeping and eating habits (UCLA Health). Prior to COVID-19, Dr. Fleischer scheduled bi-annual events at the Culver City Senior center bringing joy to the community and having a positive impact on their lives. Mrs. Martin hopes that music will de-stress and potentially improve mental health for all involved while the pandemic challenges our happiness. The Culver City High School AVPA Orchestra blossomed over the last 10 years, and continues to do so even through COVID-19. AVPA plans to creatively develop ways to keep the music playing. Keep your eyes and ears open for outdoor, socially distanced classical and chamber string music to soothe your mind and heart – courtesy of AVPA Orchestra.