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Wednesday October 20th

Phillips Middle School commissions piece for student orchestra

A group of eight graders from Phillips Middle School are pictured at their holiday performance at University Place in Chapel Hill in Dec. 2019. Photo courtesy of Ann Daaleman.
Buy Photos A group of eight graders from Phillips Middle School are pictured at their holiday performance at University Place in Chapel Hill in Dec. 2019. Photo courtesy of Ann Daaleman.

For many student musicians, performing a unique piece curated just for them is a faraway, unrealistic idea. But thanks to the dedication of recently retired Phillips Middle School Orchestra Director Ann Daaleman, Phillips’ former eighth grade orchestra students will get the chance to make this dream a reality.

Funded by a grant from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to support equitable opportunities within the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, as well as parents of her students, Daaleman commissioned an orchestral arrangement by one of her students’ favorite composers, Yukiko Nishimura.

Daaleman said she felt compelled to commission a piece for her students after she saw how engaged they were with Nishimura’s works.

“In 2019, I picked a piece of hers to do in their fall concert, and the kids had a kind of reaction which I had not always seen in this type of music,” Daaleman said. “One girl told me her heart felt full when we played this piece. You could watch their faces, and they were in that place where they were just so engaged and lost in the music.”

COVID-19 put a halt to Daaleman and her students’ plan to perform the commissioned piece, “Snowberry,” in person for their main concert in 2020. But the current freshmen orchestra students at East Chapel Hill High School – most of whom were part of Daaleman’s eighth grade class at Phillips – plan to perform the piece together, and in person, this fall.

Two of Daaleman’s former students, Amelia Kelley and Brooke Harrison, are now freshmen at ECHHS. They both said they were previously unfamiliar with commissioned pieces, but they are excited and grateful to hopefully perform “Snowberry” in the fall.

“Even though I feel like it’s definitely going to take some getting used to, playing with a whole group of people is so much better than playing alone because it really feels like there are all these moving parts,” Harrison said. “When it’s just one person, it just feels sort of empty.”

But if there’s anything more exciting than getting to play their own commissioned piece, Harrison and Kelley said that it’s putting on a strong performance for their beloved middle school orchestra director.

Harrison said working with Daaleman is always a great experience because she always makes her students feel appreciated.

“When she commissioned the piece, it was really great to see Ms. Daaleman super excited about it,” Kelley said. “We wanted to perform well to make her feel really good about it too.”

Commissioning “Snowberry” was not Daaleman’s first experience working with the Public School Foundation. In fact, she made it her mission when she was teaching to help students get the same artistic opportunities.

“We started a program of collecting instruments at Phillips so that I could provide quality instruments for any student that wasn't able to,” Daaleman said. “That was hugely important to me. People can buy stringed instruments for $100 on Amazon, but they’re horrible.”

Madeline Blobe, the executive director for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation, said this is the first project of its kind that the foundation has worked on, though it is not unusual for the foundation to fund the arts.

Blobe expressed that Daaleman’s commission proposal has created a unique musical opportunity for many students that they likely would not have had otherwise — just the type of thing that the public school foundation likes to support.

“Coming onto the board, my eyes were really opened to all the amazing things that the Public School Foundation does for the community,” Blobe said. “Ann is just one of those quintessential educators that spent her whole career bringing her gifts and talents to students and making sure that anyone that wanted to participate in music could.” 

Sheet music and an audio recording of “Snowberry” by Yukiko Nishimura, commissioned by the Phillips Middle School Orchestra, can be found here.


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