Eight years ago, Fiona Frawley was among a handful of fourth-graders who picked up her bow and became one of the first students in the Woodstock Community Unit School District 200 orchestra program.
Other students weren’t interested in playing the bass, which towers over many children that age, but Fiona embraced the challenge.
While developing her bass prowess over the years, the District 200 orchestra program grew exponentially and continues to grow. There are 355 elementary school students in orchestra this school year, nearly 200 at the middle school level and more than 160 players at the high school level.
“We are all working super hard to create an amazing program and experience for our students. I think total we are teaching about 700 kids this year between the four of us,” said Lyndra Bastian, orchestra director at Woodstock High School and Creekside Middle School.
Now a senior, Fiona, who will be among the orchestra program’s first graduating class this spring, hopes to follow in the footsteps of her mentor Bastian and become a high school orchestra teacher — and someday a professor of music theory.
Fiona said she isn’t surprised by the explosive growth of the orchestra program, which she credits to the quality of the District 200 staff.
“It’s the teachers. I’ve worked a lot with Ms. Bastian, but I’ve worked with all of the other teachers, too. They’re something else. They truly care about their students,” she said. “I think the elementary students are seeing how fun orchestra is and how much the students above them are all loving it.”
Woodstock orchestra students have travelled to New York and performed with musicians at Lincoln Center. Last year, the orchestra program brought the internationally acclaimed pop cello group Break of Reality to perform at Woodstock High School.
This year, high school orchestra students will visit Florida in October to perform for critically ill children at “Give Kids The World,” and clinic at a recording studio on Disney property. A “Cirque Du Symphony” concert where orchestra students play while professional circus acrobats perform is also planned for this year.
Stacie Savittieri, orchestra director at Woodstock North High School and Northwood Middle School, said she is incredibly proud to be part of the program and see the amazing growth, particularly in the last year.
“The students and families are truly the heart of this program and we are forever grateful for their continued support,” Savittieri said.
Bastian attributed much of the rapid growth at the elementary school level to orchestra director Jillian Forbes who teaches more than 300 students at five District 200’selementary schools and Cara Fulcher who teachers at one. The elementary program has brought more than 80 new students into the program over the last two years.
“We all are very passionate about what we do, love working with our students, and are excited to see where the program continues to go,” Bastian said.