he seventh-grade orchestra at Carl Stuart Middle School meets every day during second period.
Students play violin, viola, cello or string bass and rehearse every day for the 50-minute class period. As second-year string players, these students continue to refine the basic techniques they developed in the sixth grade as beginners in addition to developing new skills. The level of music they perform is more involved, with each part much more independent than their first year of playing, and new notes, rhythms, styles and genres of music available to them as they advance on their instruments.
The seventh-grade orchestra is in many ways a "team sport" — students must work together to achieve their best performance, and every player’s individual performance is integral to the success of the whole group.
Currently, the students in this class are preparing their program for their concert during the Conway Public Schools Orchestra’s annual La Fiesta Orquesta Taco Supper Dinner fundraiser. The students’ first concert of the year, this event also includes a silent auction with well over a hundred items donated by local businesses. All of the Conway Orchestras will perform at the Taco Supper between 5 and 9 p.m. Nov. 4 at Bob Courtway Middle School. Carl Stuart’s portion of the concert will be from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. in the gym at Bob Courtway, with the dinner being served in the cafeteria and the silent auction held in the band room.
The Conway Public Schools Orchestra program is one of only 11 public school string programs in the state of Arkansas, only eight of which go through senior grade. Serving more than 250 students in grades six through 12 across the six secondary campuses, the responsibility of directing the program is shared by three full-time staff. Conway orchestra students consistently place in the All-Region and All-State Orchestras, the most competitive string groups in the state. Additionally, many graduating orchestra seniors receive scholarship money to continue their musical studies in college.
Casey Buck, the seventh-grade orchestra teacher at Carl Stuart, is in his sixth year with the Conway Orchestra program. He also teaches the low strings class at Ruth Doyle Intermediate, assists the high school orchestras at Conway High School East and West and teaches the AP Music Theory course at Conway West, where music students learn the fundamentals of harmony and can earn college credit for their coursework.
Buck holds a master’s degree in music performance and a bachelor’s degree in music education from Loyola University New Orleans. A cellist himself, he performs professionally with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in Little Rock and teaches string methods and applied strings courses at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. He is also in his fourth season directing the Preparatory Orchestra, a part of the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra program, comprised mostly of first- and second-year string players from all over central Arkansas.
"One of the most rewarding things for me about teaching orchestra," Buck said, "is the collaboration between these young musicians and myself as their teacher. We spend seven years together, from sixth- through 12th-grade. I get to know each of the students and their families, and we make some great music and great memories that these kids will carry with them their whole lives. It’s such an honor to be a part of that."