FARMINGTON After hours of rehearsing together, orchestra students from around San Juan County performed a concert on Tuesday evening.

The Northwest chapter of the New Mexico Music Educators Association hosted an Honors Orchestra concert that brought together about 315 students from grades two through 12 for a performance at the Farmington Civic Center.

Farmington Municipal Schools is the only area district with a string instruments program, said Monica Taulbee-Leaming, orchestra director at Farmington High School and Tibbetts Middle School. A number of home-schooled students also joined in the performance.

During the concert, students performed in five groups based on their experience level.

Steven Byess, a guest conductor, smiles on Monday at the Farmington Civic Center while practicing with students from the Northwest chapter of the New
Steven Byess, a guest conductor, smiles on Monday at the Farmington Civic Center while practicing with students from the Northwest chapter of the New Mexico Music Educators Association. The orchestra performed Tuesday at the civic center. (Megan Farmer / The Daily Times)

Taulbee-Leaming said the beginning orchestra is mostly sixth graders, the apprentice group includes mostly seventh graders and the intermediate orchestra is comprised of eighth graders. High school students are split between the advanced and elite groups.

Each of the five groups performed three songs they have been practicing within their schools since January. But the students did not all play together until Monday morning. They practiced all day Monday and part of Tuesday, spending more than 10 hours rehearsing the pieces.

"We got to bring the four middle schools, the two high schools together, so it sounds like we've been rehearsing together for the last two months," Taulbee-Leaming said. "They go home very exhausted at the end of the concert."

Part of the difficulty in organizing the concert comes from making sure all of the students play at the same speed and pace. But for some students, like Tibbetts Middle School seventh grader Kalea Brucks, performing as part of a new group wasn't that difficult. The violinist said it's a chance to learn about her playing style and have fun.

"I like to see my friends, and I like the whole concert experience," Brucks said. "The conductors are really nice and teach us a lot of stuff we normally wouldn't learn."

Logan Cooper, an eighth grader at Heights Middle School, plays the bass during an Honors Orchestra practice on Monday at the Farmington Civic Center.
Logan Cooper, an eighth grader at Heights Middle School, plays the bass during an Honors Orchestra practice on Monday at the Farmington Civic Center. (Megan Farmer /The Daily Times)

Five guest conductors were brought in to work with each group. They provided another outlet for students to learn about style and technique, said guest conductor Steven Byess, who works with orchestras in Arkansas and Mississippi, as well as with an opera company in Ohio.

Byess, who was also a guest conductor in 2011, said he was excited to work with students for the second time.

"Speaking to the students, they're so eager and enthusiastic about trying new things and learning new things," Byess said.

Byess worked with the elite group of students to perform "Air on the G String" by composer Johann Sebastian Bach. It's a difficult piece students may not get to perform in school, Byess said.

"When you have a group like this, you can talk about advanced techniques. I spend a lot of time addressing how to play instruments in specific, advanced ways," Byess said. "That's my goal — to get them to think and let go of those worries of playing in an ensemble in school and begin to think about playing in a professional manner."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.