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The ASO visits Mays
By: Makeda P. 

The theater of Mays was filled with strings and melodies the morning of February 9th, as members from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra came to participate in a clinic.

After getting warmed up, members of the Mays High School Orchestra and ASO musicians (first violin, Olga Shpitko and second violin Ronda Respess) performed the three songs Mays selected to play at LGPE, which is an annual evaluation hosted by the Georgia Music Educators Association to assess musical skills of a group. 

During first period, the group was split up into sectionals. Being a first violin, I proceeded to follow Mrs. Shpitko into the skybox of the theater along with my section, where we spent about an hour working on our music. Olga gave us incredible techniques on shifting, bow crossing, and overall rhythm.

Shpitko, a native of Ukraine, has been with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for nine years. “I think it’s incredibly important for us to be able to go to schools in the community and to share our excitement and our love to music.”

Shpitko says she doesn’t ever remember not playing the violin. Her mother was an amateur violinist who had a violin sitting in her closet, and so Olga decided to give it a try.

“Every year I have memorable experiences, so I can’t choose a favorite,” she says, referring to her numerous recordings with ASO. “You have to really love it. It requires an incredible amount of persistence, incredible amount of dedication, and all of that cannot be a burden if you really love it.”

Jacqueline Pickett, an instructor of double bass at Columbus State University, says she enjoys working with youth in music. “I think it’s very important that we [as professionals] remember that we were once beginners and give back.”

Pickett worked with the basses on technical aspects like, sound production, proper posture, and intonation.

“It was an eye-opening experience because it showed me a few things I was doing wrong,” admits sophomore DreQuan Riley, a member of the Mays High Orchestra.

The second violinist, Ronda Respess, also came to conduct pieces with the group, particularly Themes from Moldau, which she informed us was actually a river, and this helped our interpretation of playing it.

“I knew that was going to happen, how old are you,” she asks, after I question how long she’s been with the symphony. When I answered 17, she laughs, saying she’s been playing almost three times my age. For 46 years, Repress has been a member of ASO.

Her violin was beautiful, so of course I had to ask, what kind it was. “A Sergio Peresso, and it was made in 1974, and I bought it from the maker, so I’m the only person to play this.”

Respess says to her, orchestra is a discipline you don’t get in too many other things. “I feel like you all are sponges,” she laughs. “You all want to take in so much but there is so little time to do it.”

But the time of fine classical music was not over. The next day, the Mays High orchestra and other fine arts students got the opportunity to see the ASO live for free.

“I think the opportunity to have students go to the symphony for free is spectacular,” says junior Benjamin Oglesby-Davis, concertmaster of the Mays High Orchestra.

The program was called ‘The History of Struggle’, a small student concert regarding human oppression and revolution. The group played various selections from Dmitri Shostakovich to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to John Williams.

“Anytime you introduce a new art form to a group of students is legendary,” says Davis.

The entire musical exchange ended with Mays going to lunch. Whilst there, I ran into Mrs. Respess again, who introduced me to someone very special.

“We had only one two-hour rehearsal for today’s concert. A lot of the repertoire we’d already played before,” says Justin Bruns, who was concertmaster for the program.  

My eyes went wide with the idea of so little time to learn music, but I wasn’t surprised. ASO is one of the most renowned symphonies in the country.

“The expectation is to come prepared, but we had a great conductor,” Bruns says, referring to Michael Palmer, the conductor for that day’s performance, and also the official conductor of the Georgia State University Orchestra. “Palmer is a great friend to the orchestra.”

Bruns says music wasn’t always the easiest route. “My shock actually came when I was in grad school, when I realized I had to make a living,” he laughs. “I had to focus on how to win an orchestra job learning new music every week.” Bruns says it’s fast-paced, as the group has four performances this week with all new music.

“My advice to anyone is to have enough self-discipline that you’re the best,” says Bruns.

The Mays High Orchestra, under the direction Dr. Chainey Cherry, will all see if their hard work and clinics with ASO musicians paid off in March at North Atlanta High School when they perform at LGPE. [Editor’s note: The Mays High School Orchestra received a Superior at the Georgia Music Educators Association’s Large Group Performance Evaluation (LGPE).]

**This music clinic was a part of the Community ARTreach “Music in Adamsville” Program, made possible by the AT&T Grant at the Woodruff Arts Center.


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