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Donations provide musical instruments for RISD orchestra

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Jani Kosturski, orchestra director, plays the piano while Julie Dominguez, a fifth-grade teacher, observes her students as they practice in the gym at Sunset Elementary School on Wednesday. (Alison Penn Photo)

The Roswell Independent School District’s orchestra has received a donation of $2,000 to provide 12 instruments in time to for students to practice for the district-wide fifth-grade winter concert.

Julie Dominguez, a fifth-grade teacher at Sunset Elementary School, said her students joined other students at the RISD’s Fifth Grade Winter Concert at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Pueblo Auditorium. The new instruments are nine violins, two violas and one cello. At Sunset Elementary School, 32 students play viola, violin or in one instance, a cello.

Jani Kosturski is the orchestra director at Mountain View Middle School and also travels to eight RISD elementary schools to bring orchestral education to the students. From Sunset, East Grand Plains and Monterrey elementary schools, Kosturski said these fifth-grade students tend to continue in the orchestra program at Mountain View when they enter middle school. Dr. Sara Montgomery’s students also played at the fifth-grade concert.

Orchestral program

The Donors Choose (donorschoose.org) fundraising project brought the new instruments to RISD for students to use in the event that purchasing an instrument or renting is not possible. In a letter to the school board, Dominguez said the project was created this August and was fully funded Sept. 11 at $2,018 with 29 donors. After informing the RISD administrators of her plan, Dominguez said the school board’s support allowed the project to be completed. The board of education voted to approve accepting the donation at the Oct. 9 meeting.

The 12 instruments now belong to RISD and are accessible to new students every year, Dominguez said. She explained that RISD provides the opportunity to join orchestra for fifth-grade through high school students. Karen Fuss, RISD’s music director, will be in charge of inventory and maintaining the instruments.

To be in the program, she said the students must academically be at their best and must be able to provide an instrument with prices ranging from $125 to $500, or rent an instrument from the school. She said they play a winter and spring concert.

“The purpose of the project was whenever I let the class know that I actually play the violin myself, and began in fifth grade, they all wanted from my class to join the orchestra,” Dominguez said. “So with the exception of maybe two students, my entire class is participating in the orchestra.

“What we did run into is some of these students could not afford to pay or to rent an instrument. And so, that’s why we ended up doing the project, so that we could get instruments for every student to be able to participate.”

Kosturski said he was “very grateful” for Dominguez starting the Donors Choose project since it is “very often” that students can’t afford an instrument.

“Especially in these parts, these kids are living in poverty — a lot of them in very bad situations,” Kosturski said. “And for them to have a wish and love to play and be in my class, I will do my best and I will turn this world around to give them that opportunity and to get them an instrument to play and learn.”

Music in schools  

Kosturski said having music in schools is important for a number of reasons. He listed the benefits of music as positive for brain development and providing an outlet for students who may not be able to play sports.

During practice, Kosturski encouraged students to “be engaged” in their playing and gave advice for their first performance. Kosturski said he stresses proper posture while playing, social skills, and etiquette appropriate in class and at a concert. To teach his students how to behave as audience members, he said he collaborates with Roswell Symphony Orchestra to get free tickets for his students and their parents to attend a professional concert. He said many of his students showed up to a show recently and he was happy about that.

“I want the city of Roswell to know that this program lives while the hopes of these kids live — while they are hoping to get into this class — the spirit of music will live,” Kosturski said. “This is why it is important.

“There’s a big widespread thinking that Roswell is cowtown, middle of nowhere, but we do have all these things. We have an amazing symphony orchestra that plays five or more times a year and we have a big love for music, especially this orchestral classical music. We have it in Roswell and I’d like the city of Roswell to know that — that they can visit an amazing symphonic concert just as they would go and watch Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra or any other one.”

Resonance for students 

Nohelia Soltero and Sean Tucker both started orchestra around two months ago. Both of the students said Thursday’s concert was their first time ever performing.

Soltero, 10, now plays violin and said her family had an extra one (since some of them already play violin) and she only needed to purchase small parts for her instrument. Tucker, 11, said he looked up cellos when he was considering joining the orchestra; he said he made the right decision to be the only cello player at Sunset Elementary School. Since his instrument came after the donations were accepted, he said it took time for the instrument to be in his hands.

“I thought it would be awesome, but I never knew that I would be able to have a $500 instrument,” Tucker said. “Mostly, I’m just amazed on how generous people can be.”

“They should join orchestra,” Soltero said in regards to future students. “It’s really fun. It’s relaxing. We get to learn new songs almost each week. Our teacher — he’s very kind and he gives us stickers to (show) where to put our hands. He shows us how to do everything.”

Tucker described Dominguez as “serious, funny, very persistent and strong” and that Kosturski was “a great leader, a great teacher.” Tucker said he has seen Dominguez’s persistence in helping her students have access not only to instruments, but to educational technology such as Chromebook laptops, wireless mice and earbuds also.

“Our teacher did the fundraiser for our school for all the kids to get a viola or a violin,” Soltero said of Dominguez. “Once she did that, our orchestra teacher, Mr. K, told us we were the biggest group that he had over the years. Since some of us started late, since some of them came late, he started helping other kids. He got us all together almost at the same speed. Some of them don’t really know the songs, but Mr. K almost got us all to know all the songs.”

“It feels like they value us,” Tucker said about having helpful teachers. “We’re not just a number added to a class. We are a human being sitting in that seat waiting to learn and to be able to have a cello. And we’re the only group that ever has not had to rent it for money, so it makes you feel special like you are valued in that classroom and that they care about you, your thoughts and your feelings.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.