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Chopin Inherits Orchestra Program and Music Teacher, Students Grateful

By Mina Bloom | January 16, 2015 7:44am | Updated on January 17, 2015 8:48am
  Lafayette Elementary School had the   largest school orchestra program in CPS before it closed. It was rebuilt at Chopin.
Chopin Orchestra
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HUMBOLDT PARK — When Anayse Soto was only 4 or 5, her mom showed her an online video of an orchestra performance.

At that moment Anayse knew she wanted to play a string instrument, she said.

Now a 13-year-old seventh-grader, Anayse plays violin for one of the largest after-school orchestra programs in the Chicago Public School, and she was chosen as one of 38 students to perform in this year's Chicago Youth Music Festival, culminating in a performance alongside professional Civic Orchestra musicians at the Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave. The performance is at 11 a.m. Feb. 7.

"I feel like my dream just came true," said Anayse, who walks three miles to and from Chopin Elementary School, 2540 W. Rice St., from her Austin home.

The young violinist practices four days a week for at least two hours after school with Chopin's orchestra, and practices at home for an additional hour or two, she said.

"It's really fun," Anayse said. "I like how the octaves sound different every time you play. It's only four strings and it's so unique."

For the past week, five professional musicians from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago have been working with the young musicians at Chopin, mentoring them through one-on-one workshops and rehearsals. 

The residency is part of Merit School of Music's program called "Bridges: Partners in Music." It was designed to give students in underserved communities access to a quality music education. Every year, the nonprofit Merit School of Music brings the program to 5,000 students.

The nonprofit ran an after-school orchestra program at Lafayette Elementary School for more than a decade before the school closed last year. Lafayette was known for having the largest orchestra program in the Chicago Public Schools.

When Lafayette closed, its students were transferred to Chopin, and so was the school's music teacher, Arturs Weible. He taught and directed the music program at Lafayette for 15 years before the school shuttered.

"The kids can want it, I can yell for it, but without the support of so many people pulling in the same direction, this wouldn't exist," said Weible, adding that the faculty and administration at Chopin were determined to inherit the program.

"To have this program continue on from Lafayette to [Chopin], as well as it has, is a testament to everyone's faith in the fine arts and I'm just really lucky to be a part of it."

Weible was vocal about how damaging closing Lafayette would be to the orchestra. Lafayette's last string concert was emotional for Weible and students alike.

But since the transfer he said he doesn't want to do anything else but teach at Chopin "for the next 20 years."

On Thursday evening, the grade school students showed off their hard work with a "sneak preview" performance. The almost 40 student orchestra rehearsed for their upcoming show in the school's auditorium in front of a parent audience.

"We'll fit as many parents as we can on the bus" to the Feb. 7 show, Weible told parents Thursday.

Parent Laticia Bonner said her 12-year-old daughter, Laila, has been practicing "non-stop" at home.

"I'm speechless, it's a great program," Bonner said. "It's showing me that she's motivated and disciplined on her own. She'll get up and [practice] on her own no problem." 

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