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Henderson County students show off their strings as orchestra festival returns

The 2021 Berrian All-County Orchestra Festival commenced Oct. 12 at East Henderson High School after a yearlong hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Henderson County Public Schools’ (HCPS) high school students played to a packed gymnasium with music ranging from Beethoven to a score from “The Avengers” to a piece composed by Amy Turlington, the orchestra director at North Henderson High School.

Henderson County Public Schools’ All-County Repertory Orchestra. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

The event, which is usually held annually, is named after Dr. Mae Adele Berrian, a Henderson County resident who died in 2001 and willed money for the strings program. The fund is handled by the Henderson County Education Foundation (HCEF), a nonprofit that manages funds and grants that aim to enhance public education in the region.

While students from four district high schools were showing off their string skills, the Henderson County School Board was in session elsewhere.

In that meeting, it was announced that the district has allocated $200,000 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to support equity in music education. These funds translate into the purchase of instruments for band and orchestra programs, and support at art fairs in elementary schools to introduce instruments to students at a young age, said Molly McGowan Gorsuch, HCPS public information officer.

Strings orchestra at Henderson County Public Schools. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

The audience saw performances from three different groups: the All-County Repertory Orchestra, the Hendersonville Symphony Youth Orchestra, and the All-County Honors Orchestra. Elizabeth Terry, the director of the Hendersonville Symphony Youth Orchestra, conducted the honors orchestra as well. Students from the four different schools practiced together for the first time the day prior to the concert.

The All-County Repertory Orchestra performances are below with conductor and orchestra director for Hendersonville High and Hendersonville Middle’s Amanda Tant.

Henderson Public School’s Berrian All-County Orchestra plays The Avengers by Silvestri, arranged by Moore at East Henderson High School, conducted by Amanda Tant.
Henderson County Public School’s All-County Repertory Orchestra plays Adagio Cantabile by Beethoven arranged by Gruselle, conducted by Amanda Tant.
Amy Turlington is the orchestra director at North Henderson High School and Apple Valley Middle School, and attended HCPS as a student. She composed the piece, and it was conducted by Amanda Tant.

The Berrian All-County Orchestra Festival is over two decades old and continues to grow in participation. Jennifer Quinn, orchestra director at East Henderson High School, took time in between performances to applaud the parents in the audience for their support.

“We live and work in a community that is well supportive of the arts, it is not like this everywhere, I have worked in other districts, and it is definitely not like this everywhere,” she said.

Tant mirrors Owen’s sentiments:

“I keep using the word unique, but there’s just no other way to describe it. We are really dedicated to making sure that we’re providing an experience for every student that walks through our doors, and we’re expanding our equity and making sure that we’re getting all students involved in sixth grade and beyond in playing an instrument in our county.”

Amanda Tant, Hendersonville High and Middle orchestra director

Rokem Bayne, a tenth grade student at Hendersonville High, plays the viola.

“Being able to play [music] in school is pretty nice, because you’re able to just take a breather from all your other classes and do something that you’re passionate about,” Bayne said.

Marissa Detwiler is a senior at West Henderson High School, and this will be her last Berrian All-County Orchestra Festival. She has been playing the violin since she was in fifth grade.

“You can see tonight so many people care about it and so many people come out to these events and are passionate about it and so many kids feel like their instrument gives them a voice that they wouldn’t be able to have otherwise. So absolutely, I think the fine arts are so important, specifically orchestra.”

Marissa Detwiler, senior at West Henderson High School
Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.