By Connie and Lynn Baer
In 1921–1922, Grossmont’s second school year, its first orchestra was offered as a school subject for only strings and wind instruments — 18 students were enrolled under director Chesley Mills. During these early years, the orchestra played at graduations; was an integral part of the Christmas pageants; and, of course, presented school concerts in the school auditorium. Orchestra was the only instrumental music program available for students until marching band was offered in 1930.
During the next nine decades, the instrumental music director directed the band as well as the orchestra, but some years, a separate orchestra teacher was hired. For the past four years, Grossmont High School has been honored with the services of a volunteer orchestra director Karen Childress-Evans, who holds a doctorate of education and whose accomplishments include 45 years of music teaching, including in the La Mesa Spring Valley District, as well as serving as the director of visual and performing arts in the San Diego Unified School District.
Today, Mrs. Childress-Evans volunteers four days a week at Grossmont, teaching one beginning strings class and one intermediate/advanced orchestra class.
“Once I retired as an administrator, I wanted to give back to the community where I live doing the thing I loved best, teaching string orchestra music,” she said. “I offered my services to a variety of schools around the area, but in 2014-15, GHS band director James Llamas jumped on my offer. Since then, I have brought in funding for the string program through grants and personal donations and have grown the program six-fold. We formally added a beginning strings class to the beginning band class two years ago. This group is the foundation of the advanced group since Grossmont does not have any middle school string orchestra feeders at this time.”
Under Mrs. Childress-Evans, the Grossmont String Orchestra has grown in size from six students to almost 40. Student levels range from beginning to advanced and include violin, viola, cello, and bass. Performances during the year include several lunch-time outdoors quad mini-concerts such as Halloween and Veterans Day, the Winter Concert, the Spring Adjudicated Orchestra Festival, the Spring Concert, the Dessert Show Auction and Gala, the District String Showcase, and, of course, the GHS graduation performance.
Each year, the Grossmont Strings perform for a panel of judges at the annual CMEA-SBS Band and Orchestra Festival. The beginning violins — who start as beginners in August — participate in all full-group performances including this prestigious festival. This group consistently brings home excellent ratings and positive comments commending these students (many of whom began their musical endeavors as beginners in high school) for performing music usually performed by those with years more experience.
The Footnotes, the advanced string quintet, are the most advanced students. This elite audition-only group acts as a recruitment ensemble and earns money through its performances for the Grossmont Instrumental Music Association, which pays for events, trips, coaches, instruments, materials, and supplies for the school’s instrumental music programs.
The Footnotes have performed in a variety of venues throughout San Diego County including in a Classics 4 Kids fundraiser in Rancho Santa Fe, various private corporate events, philanthropic organization luncheons and teas, and GIMA fundraisers. Members of this group also perform in various district and county honor orchestras as well as solo and ensemble festivals.
To build the program, Childress-Evans has been working with Parkway Middle School’s new music teacher, Ryley Taylor, to rebuild its band program in the hope of developing an orchestra to feed into Grossmont’s program.
Looking ahead, Childress-Evans shares, “Our orchestra enrollment numbers continue to increase every year. We welcome any student who is interested in becoming an outstanding string player to join us. We have loaner instruments. All you need is a desire to learn and we’ll take you.
“A special thank you to Mr. Dan Barnes for generously and passionately supporting the school’s instrumental music department and to Mr. Ray Webb, instrumental music director. Also thank you to the Grossmont High School Educational Foundation for providing us with recently installed new instrument cabinets for our violins and violas!”
The orchestra welcomes your donations to build its program; to donate, please visit bit.ly/2UYNkdJ. For more information about Grossmont’s historic instrumental music program, consider a purchase of our book, “Instrumental Music 1920-2016,” or visit the GHS Museum from noon to 3:30 p.m. on March 6; or our website at foothillermuseum.com. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 619-668-6140.
— Connie and Lynn Baer write on behalf of the Grossmont High School Museum.