SPRING MILLS, W.Va. — Echoing through a hallway at Spring Mills High School is a blend of violins, trumpets, drums and voices from the music department.

One particular group at Berkeley County’s newest high school recently had the chance to showcase their skills earlier this month at an annual performance and educational event. The Spring Mills High School Orchestra was the only school from West Virginia and the east coast to attend the ASTA (American String Teachers Association) National Orchestra Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Orchestra Director Dr. Jeannine Sturm told MetroNews affiliate WEPM the process to get to the festival began with submitting a recorded submission. Selected as a runner-up, the Spring Mills Orchestra flew to New Mexico to perform and receive feedback from a panel of collegiate music educators.

“It was very helpful with certain things like articulation, certain bowing styles and other techniques,” Sturm said. “Not just fix this note, fix that note…but you should do this to get this sound out of your instrument versus what you’re doing now.”

Junior Travis Weller plays the upright bass and wants to pursue music education post-high school. He, like many students interviewed, cited a trip to Robertson & Sons Violin Shop in Albuquerque. The store’s website says they are “one of the world’s leading experts in and largest dealers of rare and contemporary instruments and bows of the violin family”.

“I got to play on a bass from the 1700’s,” Weller said. “That was probably the highlight of my trip. That and going to some different workshops, master classes and getting in touch with different colleges was pretty cool.”

“We were exhausted because we had just gotten in that afternoon,” added Sturm. “We ran through one piece and they were like ‘can we go play the instruments upstairs?’.” They got to play on $8,000 violins and a $400,000 bass. They were in heaven.”

The group also did outdoor activities, including a trip to a 10,000 foot mountain peak.

On second violin was junior Samantha Navarini. She hopes to pursue a career in animation.

“Music has always been super important to me, it makes me happy to do. It just helps me learn team skills. I’m one of the section leaders so I have to be a leader. It helps me to focus because I have to be able to focus on the music. It’s just helpful.”

Most of the students involved with Spring Mill’s Orchestra are involved with multiple extra-curricular activities. Junior Rhea Ming juggles playing her viola with involvement in FFA (Future Farmers of America), All-county orchestra, Shepherd University’s community orchestra plus yearly events such as WVU Honor Orchestra and West Virginia All-State.

“It gets pretty hectic at times,” Ming said. “There are a lot of times where I’ll have to choose whether I do homework or go to a rehearsal. Then just being a teenager, you know, going to work and learning how to drive. That’s also a lot of stuff all at once. So it gets stressful at times but I feel like I manage to make it work.”

As schools across the U.S. face budget restraints, one of the first programs to be placed on the chopping block are music classes and ensembles. According to Children’s Music Workshop, about 1.3 million elementary school students across the nation do not have access to music classes. That number continues to grow.

“It’s quite a shame,” Ming said. “I don’t think people realize how important music is not only to children but to our society. I feel like the world would be a pretty dull place were it not for a lot of the things that we take for granted. Just learning how to read music and how to analyze it. I feel like there is more of an appreciation for what we hear on the radio once you take a music class.”

Senior and second chair violinist Cassandra Bhagroo is in five honor society clubs and two sports. She is also the president of National Art Society.

“It’s so important that art is involved in someway in your life, whether that be in the classroom or outside of it. But I think the accessibility that public schools have with their music programs is not only convenient, but also important. Because it allows people to see the world in a more creative way.”

The Spring Mills Orchestra will receive a full copy of their evaluation from the festival’s judges in the coming days.

“I don’t know how they do it all,” added Sturm. “They still manage to meet things on my end as well. Even if there is another conflict with another teacher we try and work things out. It’s a lot of make-up work they’ve got to get done. But somehow they manage to keep their heads above water.”

According to their website, ASTA’s 2020 festival will be held in Orlando, Florida.

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