For the first time ever, St. Paul Catholic School has begun an Orchestra program. The idea was born in a Grayson County High School Sophomore, whose brother attended the small, parochial school in the rural St. Paul community. Holly Sims and her friend, Tamara Goben, had both been members of the Grayson County Orchestra program since they were in elementary school. Both, feeling very passionately about music, more specifically orchestra, talked about the need for an orchestra program at the school. Sims’ brother, Joseph Sims, was very excited about the idea in order to continue learning to play the violin.
It took awhile for the idea to become a reality, but after much talk and planning, it all started to come together. Sims first brought the idea to her mother, Gina Sims, who teaches music at St. Paul School. Her mother was happy at the thought of having an orchestra at the school but didn’t know just how serious the two girls were about the idea. Both girls were very busy with extracurricular activities themselves, to include not only GCHS Orchestra, but also GCHS Band and Indoor Percussion, Art Club, and Beta Club.
Once the 2015-16 school year began and both parents approved of the extra time that would be spent with this project, it had to be cleared through the schools’ principal. At that time, Fr. Steve Hohman, who is also the Pastor of St. Paul and St. Elizabeth parishes, was the principal. Sims had written a letter describing the proposed idea to the pastor. Soon after, they met to discuss the possibility of the program. Hohman was certain of Sims’ good intentions, but like the parents of Sims and Goben, was unsure if the dedication required of this endeavor was something the girls were able to fully put forth. However, he wanted to give them the opportunity to try. Hohman asked Sims why she wanted to start this program.
She said, “The school needs an Orchestra program because the students can learn how to read music and be prepared if they want to join orchestra or band once they get to high school. They can also play during the church services, once they reach that level of performance. It will also boost the students’ self esteem as their playing will improve over time.”
After the program was approved by the principal/pastor, Sims talked with GCHS Orchestra and Band Directors, Mr. and Mrs. Adam French and Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Bell, for permission and advice. They also needed contact information for places to rent or purchase instruments and the necessary items for the program. The Band Directors made certain allowances to accommodate the girls’ tight schedule.
In late February of 2016, the girls’ Jr. year, the St. Paul School Orchestra had its first practice. Orchestra members then included cello players Terry Cundiff and Jarek Whitworth and violin players Joseph Sims, Rebecca DePoyster, John Smith, and Chloe Collard. Helping Sims with the organization and practices were her mother, Gina Sims, Goben, and Judith Darst, another Grayson County High Orchestra student. The group practiced on Mondays regularly, with the goal of playing two songs at the schools’ Eighth Grade Graduation which was in the beginning of June. All six members played for the first time. They were all very excited at meeting this goal successfully.
Once that hurdle was overcome, the St. Paul Orchestra was very eager to begin plans for their first concert. On July 27, 2016, parents, students, teachers and parishioners attended Mass at St. Elizabeth Church in Clarkson. The Orchestra played two songs during the church service; the concert began shortly after. Several selections were played. There was also a solo by Chloe Collard, a duet by Joseph Sims and Terry Cundiff, and a trio by Rebecca DePoyster, John Smith, Jarek Whitworth. At the end of the concert, everyone was invited to a small reception in the parish hall.
At the conclusion of the concert, Hohman said, “This is the first time in the history of St. Paul School, which is over 100 years, that that we have ever had an orchestra. Needless to say, we are pretty excited about this. This is a good start for a program that we hope to see grown and improve more with each passing year. I want to give a special thanks to Gina and Holly Sims, and the others who have helped them, for the work that they have put in on this. We thank the Lord for the kids who have entered the program, and their willingness to learn and improve.”
With the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the new orchestra program is in full swing. They are currently making plans for playing during the Grandparents’ Day Mass on September 12 and for a Fall Concert, likely in November. The hope is to continue to have GCHS students to lead the Orchestra. This strictly voluntary program also provides the high schoolers, who are the directors, with service hours and a unique teaching experience.
St. Paul’s new principal, Mrs. Kim Smith, had this to say about the newly formed orchestra: “The students of St. Paul school are truly blessed to have the opportunity to participate in Orchestra. Being involved in the orchestra is giving our students the chance to strengthen their team-work, commitment, discipline, and self-confidence. These are all things that I as a parent want to instill in my own children, so being able to offer this for our students is very important. We can never thank the young people who had the dream of a St. Paul Orchestra enough, and I plan for this program to continue to grow and continue to enrich our students’ lives.”