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There are no magical wands or short-cuts to become an accomplished musician. The old adage “practice, practice, practice” still applies. So how do students find that extra guidance to move further along the dream of making beautiful music out of notes on a page?

Here in Fairfax County, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra has stepped in with a unique, in-school educational program called SCORE (Symphony Coaching Outstanding and Refined Ensembles). With SCORE, FSO musicians work directly with middle and high school students as mentors and teachers to help prepare them for performances.

However, the SCORE educational outreach program is not just about musical achievements. The FSO and its musicians and the teachers in the Fairfax County school system understand the role that music education can play in encouraging a student’s academic achievement as well.

“The SCORE program has been a staple of our outreach to students in Fairfax County for the past 20 years, “ said Chris Zimmerman, musical director of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. He added that the work of the FSO musicians support the musical instruction students are given in their schools. “Many students in these schools do not take private lessons outside of school, and for them, this program is a rare opportunity.”

“It is a unique program, offered nowhere else in the country,” said George Etheridge, a founder of the FSO SCORE concept. The students learn by hearing the music they are preparing, played at a very high level, he said.

It is truly amazing what an observer can learn just sitting in at a SCORE rehearsal. A case in point was a rehearsal of the Luther Jackson Middle School Advanced Chamber Orchestra, directed by Phaedra Long. Well over 30 students were being guided by SCORE mentors not only to become better at the craft of making music, but through side-by-side coaching they were coaxed to explore genuine emotions with each note played.

With Luther Jackson Middle School for three years and teaching orchestral music for eleven, Phaedra Long, directs about 145 students through different skill levels. She spoke proudly of the growth and enthusiasm of each student musician. She was proud of the their high achievements and superior ratings in various competitions around Virginia.

The FSO “musicians and conductor bring a new perspective to performance.” Long said. “They are able to shape music, inspire students and help students grow in such a short period of time ... It is great to have another ‘ear’ to listen, observe, and change aspects of the music.”

At the Luther Jackson rehearsal, FSO Associate Conductor Glenn Quader carefully explained the importance of emotion in music. He spoke of the need for texture and a clean sound to bring out the feelings of the musical notes as the student orchestra played together as one unit. He reminded the students to “not play like a robot, but with feelings and personality and subtlety.”

“It’s wonderful to work with such hard working students. It is also joy to watch students develop musically even within that one day,” said cellist Jihea Choi, one of the FSO musicians at the Luther Jackson rehearsal.

“When something clicks immediately, you can literally see students’ eyes brightening up and directly translating it to their music makings,” she added. “It’s such a rewarding experience.”

“This is a wonderful chance to work with students while playing beside them in their rehearsal, to share our knowledge and to reinforce the work the school orchestra directors ... It’s always exciting to be able to provide a solution to a musical problem, and to see the students’ expressions when something suddenly works,” said violinist Sue Bower another musician at the rehearsal.

“They are such good teachers. They put things in ways we may not see. They help us improve our technique,” said Rachel Rannazzisi, a Luther Jackson Middle School student violist.

For Fairfax Symphony mentor Mark Bergman, “the kids inspire me. Playing a concert is still a special and unique experience for them and it reminds me of the sense of wonder that started me on my own musical journey.”

“I love seeing the students’ eyes light up when what we do/say makes it easier for them to play. Their enthusiasm is my inspiration.” said Helen Fall, a SCORE mentor. “I am so proud to have been a part of their success.”