NW Orchestras Weekly Update

Friday, September 1, 2023

Director's Corner

Good afternoon Normal West Orchestra Families,

What a week! We are have really started chipping away at Hauntcert music, and this week we had our orchestra elections. Congratulations to all of our new Orchestra Officers for the 2023-2024 School Year!

A highlight in Concert Orchestra this week was seeing students work together during our first sectional time on Wednesday! I observed students helping other students with bowings. The collaboration and team work makes me so excited to see how else they will help each other over the next 4 years!

A highlight in Sinfonia had to be our elections! Students created slide shows, and embraced some goofiness during their election speeches. It really is a sight to see, and I enjoy how students bring their personalities into the classroom.

A highlight in Chamber has to be the adjustments they are making to feedback. Last week, a student mentioned, "I really appreciate that you only have to say something once, and we're fixing it!" What I love most about this group so far is their ability to listen intently, and even mark their music immediately when asked to. Their ensemble skills are top notch! I can't wait to see what we can accomplish this year!

Thank you all for continuing to encourage your students in their music! It's such a treat for me to make music (and not just play through things) each rehearsal!

Have a great weekend, and good luck to all our football players against Bloomington!


As we get into the grove of things, this week we are kicking off playing assessments. This week's assignment should be simple for students, but they will need to find the time to record the assignment and submit on Google Classroom.
  • Concert Orchestra -- C Major (1 Octave) due Tuesday, September 5
  • Sinfonia Orchestra -- C Major (2 Octave) due Tuesday, September 5
  • Chamber Orchestra -- C Major (2 Octave) due Tuesday, September 5

In addition to their scale assessment, students should also practice Hauntcert music:

  • Concert Orchestra -- Forrest Gump Theme, James Bond, Harry Potter
  • Sinfonia Orchestra -- Forrest Gump Theme, James Bond, Harry Potter
  • Chamber Orchestra -- Forrest Gump Theme, Over the Rainbow, James Bond, Harry Potter, and The Avengers.

Did someone say NEW YORK?

Thank you to all of the families who already completed the interest form for our potential trip to New York City in the summer of 2024! For those of you who have not completed the form yet, please do so ASAP: Travel Interest Form.

This anonymous form gives me a rough estimate on how many travelers plan to attend. Every family should complete this form whether they plan to attend or not. I want as clear a picture as possible on what thoughts are across the entire program! Once I have a better idea of how many travelers would attend, I will either continue with planning, or we will push the trip off to Summer 2025. Again, the proposed itinerary includes:

  • Saturday, June 1
    • Bus from Normal West to O'Hare
    • Fly from Chicago to NY
    • Free time in Times Square
    • Dinner at Gayle's
  • Sunday, June 2
    • Festival workshop
    • Rockefeller Plaza
    • Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
    • Dinner at John's Pizzeria
    • Broadway performance
  • Monday, June 3
    • Outdoor pops concert
    • Chelsea Market
    • Little Island
    • High Line
    • Dinner Cruise
  • Tuesday, June 4
    • Central Park
    • Bryant Park
    • New York Public Library
    • Carnegie Hall Performance
    • Dinner @ Iguana NY
  • Wednesday, June 5
    • Fly from NYC to Chicago
    • Bus from O'Hare to Normal West

Unit 5 Music Parents

The mission of the Unit 5 Music Parents is to keep music in all Unit 5 children's’ lives by supporting & promoting Unit 5 Music Programs with involvement, financial support, communication and advocacy for students, families and directors. All programs for students from 5th Grade to Seniors in High School.


Interested parents can attend monthly meetings on the 4th Monday of each month at 7 PM. These dates include August 25, October 23, and November 27. This semester meetings are all at Normal West in the IMC.

Need More Info?

Check out the Unit 5 Music Parents website, view this flyer or contact the current president Josh Jenson.

Want to get involved?

Unit 5 Music Parents is looking for a volunteer to shadow the current planner for the Unit 5 Music Extravaganza, and take over the planning role for the 2024 Extravaganza. If you are interested in this role, contact Miss Boehm or Josh Jenson.

Practice makes Progress!

Last week, I shared information about how practice strengths neural passages. Simply put, the more we do something, the stronger the neural pathways associated with that skill become, and the task becomes easier!

Here's another set of practice tips for the week from NPR!

  1. Find somewhere quiet. This seems too obvious for words, but not only will you be far less likely to succumb to all sorts of distractions, but entering a special practice area, whether it's a certain room or just a corner of the living room, will help prepare you mentally for this very particular kind of work. Mindful intention is everything, and having the ritual of going to the same place every time can help set that intention.
  2. Have your supplies nearby. I really love cellist David Finckel's "Cello Talks" 100-video series on YouTube; you don't have to play cello to get a lot out of many of them. Some of what he covers seems like impossibly basic advice — as in the discussion (below) of his practice space. Part of his advice is to keep a pencil sharpener and a very clean eraser within arm's reach, along with a pencil to mark up your music. Simple, right? But those little things are easy to forget, and if you have to go searching for them, add up to a big waste of time.
  3. Technology can be an amazing aid — as long as you don't spend too much time futzing with it. Three free or low-cost apps I have on my phone and iPad: a metronome, a tuner and a timer, which are all essential tools for practicing. And I always have my phone with me (see above).
  4. Begin with the end in mind: Have a goal for each practice session before you start playing. Just playing through your music isn't the same thing as practicing. Before you start, think: What do I want to accomplish today? If you're not sure what you need to focus on, ask your teacher for a few concrete goals to work toward before the next lesson — and write them down so that you can refer to them during your practice sessions.
  5. Map a practice session out like a workout. Lots of musicians start with a few actual stretches and breathing exercises before they pick up their instruments. Even if you don't go quite that far, a pretty common scenario is to start with scales as a warm-up, to loosen up your muscles and get your brain thinking about technique; move on to the "working" part where you analyze and try to solve problems; then cool down by improvising or revisiting some music you already know well.
  6. Practice smarter, not necessarily longer. You'll probably accomplish a whole lot more in a short amount of time if you have a very focused objective — and science tells us that we have a limited amount of willpower to draw upon anyway. So make the most of the time you have. Say you are having trouble with two very tricky measures. Set your timer for a short period (like five or 10 minutes), and then work just on one problem in as many ways as you can — break it down into even smaller and more manageable bits, go super slow, try to play the passage backwards, change the rhythm, whatever. If that trouble spot is still giving you agita, then make yourself a mental note to come back to that section again tomorrow. Chances are it will be much, much easier the next time around.
  7. Don't always start at the beginning every time. Remember what I said about maximizing your time and your willpower? This. It can feel really good to hear yourself playing the beginning of a piece beautifully, but you may wind up wasting the limited time and energy you have. (Also, it leads to performances that start strong and then, well, wilt.)
  8. Challenge yourself — physically. Especially if you're trying to wrestle down an element that you find problematic, scientific researchers say that if you add a physical challenge to the difficult task, such as trying to play that part while standing on one leg or while walking, your brain is likely to start carving out new neural pathways — and the original task will be easier when you return to just doing that.
  9. Practice away from your instrument. Many musicians use visualization in the same way that athletes do: They run through their music without touching their instruments. Try bringing your music along with you (either on paper or a mobile device) when you know you'll have some downtime, such as during a car or train ride, and read through the piece silently.
  10. Reward hard work — in positive ways — to help your brain automate good habits. That sounds like out-and-out bribery, but again, science! Finding something that your brain likes helps it remember the "habit loop," writes Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.

Upcoming Fundraisers & Events

Normal West Homecoming Parade

Wednesday, Oct. 4th, 4:30-5:30pm

501 North Parkside Road

Normal, IL

Join your classmates in the annual Homecoming Parade! Students toss candy and share information about our 2023 Hauntcert performances. This is optional for students.