Prep Strings Students Journey to Peoria for the Illinois Music Education Conference

While Operations Assistant Nico Chona is no stranger to youth orchestras—he both played in and then worked in a similar position at Houston Youth Symphony before coming to CYSO in 2018—this month was his first experience chaperoning a large group of young players. Nico helped ferry 30 Preparatory Strings players (plus parent volunteers and a few other CYSO staff members) to Peoria for the Illinois Music Education Conference. Students played in a workshop presented by CYSO Director of String Ensembles Daniella Valdez. Nico wrote about students’ journey in Peoria, Ms. Valdez’s inquiry-based session, and the sweet treats that capped off the day’s adventure.

Congrats to Director of String Ensembles Daniella Valdez and members of Preparatory Strings on a fantastic workshop at this year’s Illinois Music Education Conference! Ms. Valdez presented a session entitled “Engaging Young Musicians in Their Learning: An Exploration of Rehearsal Techniques for Elementary Orchestras” that focused on creating inquiry within an ensemble to foster independent music learners.

Foggy view of the highway from the bus

With a bight and early call time of 6:00am(!) at the Fine Arts Building, 30 Prep Strings musicians, 13 parent volunteers, and 4 CYSO staff members boarded the bus to Peoria on Saturday morning. Most of the 2.5 hour drive downstate was through a thick blanket of fog, but we arrived safely at the Peoria Civic Center almost 30 minutes ahead of schedule!
Once inside, we found the buzzing conference center full of music educators and students from across the state. On one side of our warm-up room was a high school rock band program presentation and on the other was the elementary school choir concert. Prep Strings players paid these distractions little attention as they eagerly got to work warming up in preparation for their performance at Ms. Valdez’s workshop.

Soon enough, the audience was filing into the conference room for Ms. Valdez’s clinic. Using music from the Prep Strings fall concert back in December as well as one new piece, Ms. Valdez explained to an audience of music educators her own methods for engaging young musicians in the rehearsal process.
By directly asking students open-ended questions about aspects of the music both abstract and technical, Ms. Valdez demonstrated how she fosters in students a sense of ownership over the music. The session concluded with a full performance of Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in F major conducted by CYSO Assistant Director of String Ensembles, Anne Huynh McTighe.

Once we wrapped things up at the Civic Center, it was time for the main event: PIZZA RANCH! A Western-themed buffet-style restaurant, Pizza Ranch offers what it claims is the best fried chicken in the country, though students were more interested in the dessert pizza options. Kids and parents alike enjoyed some well-deserved tasty treats, and we left Pizza Ranch without any spills or messes.
Our wonderful bus driver Todd was again able to get a decidedly more subdued group of students, parents, and staff back to the Fine Arts Building ahead of schedule, wrapping up a fun-filled day of music making!

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