Riverside Junior High orchestra to participate in national festival


As the COVID-19 pandemic was about to shut schools down on March 13, 2020, Johanna Kitchell knew she had to act quickly.

The Riverside Junior High School director of orchestras knew she had to record an audition tape of her group.

“I sprung this recording on them,” Kitchell said. “We planned to do this recording later, but when we saw we were getting ready to shut down, I literally surprised them.”

The audition worked and Riverside’s Philharmonic Orchestra was originally selected for the 2021 American String Teachers Association National Orchestra Festival.

“We began our preparation only to have the 2021 festival canceled in December 2020,” Kitchell said. “We were told our audition would be reconsidered for 2022 or we could submit a new one. They reused the 2020 tape to reapply us, and we were selected. Now, it is finally happening.”

Students from the Fishers school will perform March 17 in the National Orchestra Festival in Atlanta. The competition brings together the top orchestras from across the U.S., Kitchell said.

“The students from 2020 never got to perform the music for the (Indiana State School Music Association) concert we were preparing for as that performance was canceled because of COVID-19,” Kitchell said. “Those students had everything taken from them. We talked about the legacy because those students who are now mostly sophomores and a few freshmen left behind the legacy. They did all the hard work, and now the current junior high students, who were sixth graders or fifth graders at the time and not even in the orchestra program, are now picking up the mantle and carrying on the legacy and will represent Riverside.”

A colleague made sure she had the right equipment needed to make the audition tape.

“After we recorded, I told them I was going to submit it for a national festival,” she said.

Kitchell said her students were nervous at first about the upcoming performance in Atlanta.

“Most of their learning has been during the pandemic. They’ve learned to play by Zoom in small classes,” Kitchell said. “The eighth graders were sixth graders then and beginners. The progress and skill they have is incredible, given the circumstances on what their education and ensemble experience has been the last two years.”

The Riverside orchestra will perform six pieces of different styles and level of difficulty. The performance will last about 25 minutes.

“They’ll perform for two adjudicators that will give us rating and comments,” Kitchell said. “They’ll have an hour-long clinic with a well-renowned string educator, then we are on to the competition, so our scores will be compared to others for the (March 19) awards competition.”

The orchestra musicians can listen to other performers and attend a performance by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.