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Sherman Students Refine Skills Thanks to Professional Musicians

SSO clinician Leslie Whelan leads a sectionalStudents pulled bows over their violins as Sherman High School Orchestra Director Michael Moore played them into a music piece, watching for correct finger placement and listening for the right chords from the small group of five violinists.

A professional musician himself, Moore typically watches many more hands on different instruments in his normal classes, but this time, he has a little help from the Sherman Symphony Orchestra.

“Their musicians come in and help students on a more individual level with their instruments,” Moore said. “I usually make it around to all of my students, but the small groups make it more personal and can give new perspectives.”

The program, called SSO Scholars, provides Sherman ISD orchestra students at both the middle and high school level with the opportunity to work closely with professional SSO clinicians throughout the year. These small group sessions, called sectionals, help build a strong foundation for students.

“Our students receive precise feedback so they know what issues to hone in on to improve,” said Kalyn McAlester, SISD coordinator of fine arts. “These clinicians also get to know the students throughout the years and know what specific areas they need to work on.”

SSO musician Nancy Hefferman helps a student with finger placementNot too far from where Moore was holding a sectional, SSO cellist Leslie Whelan gave advice on bow weight and tuning. The grant-funded program started in 2019 to expand SSO’s impact in the community.

“We decided to work with students more directly, which we hadn’t done before,” said Whelan, who is also the education director of the SSO. “Having professional musicians show different examples can change the level of a student’s performance quickly.”

The musicians also serve as another example of where music can take students if they chose to pursue it as a career.

“It’s such a unique opportunity to see a tangible outlet of what you could do in the future with musical knowledge and skills,” said Aaron Bucy, executive director of the SSO. “Students can see an end goal here.”

Moore noted the sectionals not only have an impact on the quality of music his students can perform but also build connections in the small world of career musicians.

“In the professional world, making connections is one of the most important things you can do,” Moore said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for those students.”

The sectionals are coming at the just the right time for SHS students, who are gearing up for UIL concert and sightreading contests in late February.

“It’s wonderful to have the SSO Scholars here,” Moore said. “By having these musicians who have performed on stage come into the classroom, more of our students can aspire to be like them.”