Johanna M. Kitchell, the Orchestra Director at Riverside Junior High School and Riverside Intermediate School in Fishers, Indiana, is not only a problem-solver in her own right, but she is instilling this skill in her students.
Her classroom is described as an active place of learning and Kitchell knows that she is helping to “raise” not just the next generation of performers, but the next generation of music consumers. “I strive to incorporate their opinions,” she explains. “We discuss phrasing, bowing and articulation choices; then we listen and provide feedback. Students write their own program notes for concerts. We perform in the community, we attend local concerts. I try to give my students agency within our learning, and by doing so, find ways for them to feel connected to music that will last past their junior high orchestra days.”
Kitchell also gives students a voice in interpretive and musical decisions. “We all have moments where the music doesn’t have all the information, and we have to ask: Should there be a crescendo? What’s that articulation? Where in the bow? There are also times where the edits we have made still doesn’t feel right, so I ask students for their ideas, and we try them all,” Kitchell says. “We find what works best for the music, together. It takes longer than if I just told them, but that doesn’t engage their musicianship or ask them to think critically.”
Kitchell took problem-solving to a whole new level when she found that she wasn’t consistently using any method book with her second- and third-year players. She was trying to connect skills and techniques to repertoire, but most books layered so many different skills that it was hard to find exercises her students could play accurately. So, she created her own method book, “Golden Techniques for Intermediate Strings” “Each unit is built in isolation, allowing students to focus on a single skill or technique,” she explains. “The exercises introduce each concept simply, then use it in ways most commonly seen in junior high orchestra repertoire. I have found this to be a more effective way to help my students develop their playing skills.”
Kitchell, who is also the Concert Orchestra Conductor for the Indianapolis Youth Orchestra, has grown her program from 70 students to as many as 285 during her 15 years at Riverside. “That wouldn’t be possible without administrative support,” she says.