East Ridge Orchestra Set To Take the Big Stage This February

by | Feb 2024

East Ridge High School Orchestra

East Ridge High School Orchestra. Photo: Kathy M. Helgeson

The high school orchestra has been invited to perform at the Minnesota Music Educators Association Midwinter Convention.

In spring 2023, the East Ridge High School (ERHS) Orchestra sat down to record an audition tape. The ensemble’s rendition of the first movement of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, coupled with Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ Symphony No. 2, secured an invitation for the orchestra to perform at the 2024 Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA) Midwinter Convention this February.

We sat down with orchestra director, Kelly DeMorett, to learn more.

Woodbury Magazine (WM): How long have you been the orchestra director at ERHS?

Kelly DeMorett (KD): I came to District 833 in the fall of 2010. The district orchestra program began in the fall of the 2006–2007 school year, when orchestra was offered to students in fourth and fifth grades. 

Each year the orchestra program added a grade level, and in the fall of 2010 a high school orchestra was added at East Ridge, Woodbury and Park High Schools. I was hired to start the program at all three schools and traveled between the three high schools for four years until the program grew to a size necessitating additional staff members. At that point, I chose to remain at ERHS.

WM: What is the theme of the 2024 Minnesota Music Educators Association Midwinter Convention?

KD: The theme of the 2024 Midwinter Convention is “Building Pathways Together.” According to multi-Grammy award-winning composer and producer Quincy Jones, humanity is blessed to have “12 musical notes” that shape our fluidity. Although there are many more musical “notes” beyond those often-used semitones, Quincy Jones advocates for a more diverse expression and artist responsibility toward investigating different ways to create, connect, perform and respond to the “12 notes.” 

The East Ridge Symphony Orchestra has worked to put together a concert program of musical works that represent a variety of musical time periods, styles, diverse composers and, most importantly, compositions which reflect a deeply personal meaning and/or experience for the composer or another individual as a commissioned work. Connecting to the music is of utmost importance in our preparation.

Contemporary composer Brian Balmages’ commissioned work, Lyric Metal, combines beautiful string melodic lines with elements of heavy metal to honor a cello player from the commissioning school who lost his life in a tragic accident. The composer combines the heavy metal elements as a nod to the late young man who had found musical inspiration in the Finnish metal band Apocalyptica.

Also on the program is the orchestra’s featured work, the first movement of Florence Price’s Symphony No. 1. Finished in 1932, her symphony was the first symphony written by an African American woman to be performed by a major United States orchestra. The work was later lost and then rediscovered in an abandoned house in Illinois and was finally published for the first time in 2008. The work draws inspiration from both traditional Western music and African American spirituals, which can be heard throughout the work. 

Student musicians have studied Florence Price to better understand her contribution to orchestral music, deepen their appreciation of her music and to be … informed about the many obstacles she faced throughout her life as a woman and African American, preserving and now finally taking her place as one of the leading composers in history. In a recent assignment, students were asked to explain how understanding her work influences their approach to learning and performing the music. Students said (names omitted for student privacy):

“Price’s compositions are symbols of hard work and the determination to be heard in a society that didn’t want to hear from her, so it is up to us to give her the recognition she deserves.”

“Learning more about Florence Price will help me to perform her music with more respect and dignity than before. I know that what she has experienced and lived through is so much more than I am strong enough to handle. Her life is inspiring, and I want to treat her music with the dignity it deserves.”

“I already respected her as a composer from the 1930s because of the tremendous number of hardships she faced not only as a woman but as an African American woman. However, my respect went to the moon (because it had already gone through the roof) when learning about her first symphony. Learning about this work and influential composer has instilled in me the sentiment of honor to perform this influential piece.”

WM: How has the orchestra been preparing for the performance?

KD: In addition to studying the historical significance of the composers and the musical compositions, students have been working on the music itself since the beginning of the school year, on and off, while continuing to prepare our other concerts and events that we do in a school year. 

We have also recently been working with guest conductor and Minnesota Orchestra violinist Ken Freed, and will be working with other guest conductors as the year continues, even after our MMEA performance.

Shoe Us the Love

The East Ridge Orchestra is hosting a fundraiser to help cover the costs associated with performing at the Minnesota Music Educators Association convention, as well as supporting the annual costs of the program as a whole.

“We are collecting gently used shoes to help us raise much needed funds to continue bringing in guest artists, pay for music and supplies and for future travel opportunities that give student musicians the opportunity to see some of the best orchestras in the world,” DeMorett says.

Shoes will be collected through March 31. If you are interested in donating your gently used shoes, you can contact DeMorett at kdemoret@sowashco.org or drop off the shoes at the front desk at ERHS. 

“The shoes will ultimately be sent to a developing country, helping those in need through donation and microenterprise opportunities,” DeMorett says. “Our goal is to collect over 2,500 pairs of gently used or new shoes!”

The East Ridge Orchestra performance for the Minnesota Music Educators Association Midwinter Convention will take place at 3:30 p.m. on February 15 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

East Ridge Orchestras
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Instagram: @erhs.orchestra


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