Tecumseh Schools Orchestra to hold benefit, group seeks orchestra room at THS as numbers of students in program expands

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Amy Marr can’t remember a time that music was not a part of her life. She began playing the violin at the tender age of three, and soon knew what she wanted to do when she grew up — to share her love of music through teaching.

Today, the Saline native lives a dream come true and continues to play a pivotal role in the nurturing of someone else’s dream. The late Elizabeth Wilson, a violinist and teacher, dreamed that the Tecumseh Public Schools would have its own strings program and in 1997, Wilson established the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation to further arts in Lenawee County. Although Ms. Wilson passed away in 2001, her legacy continues as the Tecumseh Schools Orchestra (TSO) continues to evolve.

From the beginning, the Foundation has committed $15,000 per year to the program with a goal of continuing to do so each year until the program’s first students have graduated. The first musicians now are freshmen at Tecumseh High School, and Marr team teaches a class for them with band instructor Michael Bough as part of the block scheduling program.

The TSO program is now in its sixth year. Marr said Bob Phillips, a string educator and composer who taught in Saline for more than two decades, and under whom she took her training, was asked to oversee a fiddle camp before school started in 2002 to get students excited about the upcoming program.

“He decided to stay and teach that first year,” said Marr. Phillips also founded the Saline Fiddlers, a world-renowned fiddle group of which Marr also was a member. The first group of 38 fourth graders entered the program that year.

After Marr completed her education at Eastern Michigan University, she applied for the position she now holds. She recalls a tough interview process and how finalists had to come in and teach a lesson.

“When I went in, I wanted to make sure that I taught the kids something whether I got the job or not,” Marr remembers. She taught them the beginning theme from “Lord of the Rings.”

“The kids thought that was exciting,” she said. One of the committee members wondered why she led with such a difficult piece. “I told them if I was going to do this, I wanted to just ‘go for it.’” Her enthusiasm apparently hit its mark.

Even today, Marr enjoys watching her students try new things and draws on her extensive fiddling background to help introduce “cool tunes” that also advance their skills.
“Music gives the students an experience they aren’t able to enjoy any other way,” she said. “It’s a creative outlet and music is just so powerful and I’m excited to help them understand that.” Marr said she can have students playing a song by the end of the first lesson and most will know about 10 selections in six weeks. She also has seen kids learn to shine as they develop their skills.

“For some, this is ‘their thing;’ it’s what makes them feel good about themselves and it’s neat to be able to see that and the looks on their faces as they’re playing,” she said. “It also creates friendships.” Marr said some older middle schoolers in the program formed bonds with other members who’ve come through TSO with them. There’s also an interesting mentoring process taking place.

“Some of the older kids eat their lunches quickly so they can come in here while the fifth graders are playing,” she said. “It’s great to see them take ownership for the program and want to make sure that the younger ones do well.” She said the relationships extend to seeing each other in the hall, giving youths a connection they normally would not have between the older and younger kids.

Marr said she is extremely grateful to the Friends of TSO, the Foundation, Tecumseh school officials and the community that has supported the program since its inception. She is especially grateful to Theresa Powers, president of the Foundation, and her husband, Wes, who’ve devoted countless hours to the program, including work on an upcoming fundraiser with proceeds going toward an orchestra room at THS. The Foundation already has pledged $250,000 toward the needed facilities which would include a practice room and climate-controlled instrument storage. As of May, 2008, the Friends of TSO has raised more than $282,000.

One of the most unique items that will be up for bid during the dinner/auction is a lesson on a Stradivarius, donated by Paul Bartel. The winner doesn’t have to know how to play.
“Someone can have their one lesson of a lifetime on a $2.5 million violin,” said Marr. She said she has played them before. She said it’s hard to explain the difference, but the instruments make a very sweet sound.

“It doesn’t come across as loud or ‘boomy’ but the sound projects forever,” she said. “I love my own instrument, it has a great open tone, but the Stradivarius is a bit sweeter. It just projects so well and it’s a cool experience.”


The Friends of Tecumseh Schools Orchestra will hold a Dinner and Live/Silent Auction on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008, from 5:30-9:30 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge, 700 Bishop Reed Drive. Dinner will be catered by Evans Street Station. Tickets are $40 per person with a group rate of a table for 8 for $280. The group has gathered more than $8,000 in merchandise for the auction, including violins, concert tickets, sports tickets, jewelry and much more. Tickets will be available until 5 p.m. Friday evening, Oct. 17. For tickets or information call Theresa Powers at 423-4148 or JoAnna Keebler at 423-0849.

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