All-District Concert — ‘our gift to the community’
By Regina Elling
It’s not often 500 musicians get together for a one-night concert, but the Fifth Annual All-District Concert isn’t just any event. Put together by the Ramona Unified School District, the concert promises to be “an exciting event for the entire Ramona community,” according to Robert Graeff, superintendent of the district.
“Other than graduation, it is the single biggest event we put on throughout the year,” said Graeff. “In the past, more than 2,500 have attended and we usually overflow the gym.”
Before the annual concert series began, there was no similar program in town.
“The concert has a twofold purpose,” Graeff said. “One, we put all the kids under one roof to showcase the high quality of the music programs we have here in Ramona. It is a unique experience, and I am not even sure that even the parents are aware of just how high quality the music education is across the entire school district.”
A secondary purpose of the concert is for recruitment.
“It is really powerful when the fourth- and fifth-graders, for example, can actually play their music across from the middle and high school students playing the same music,” said Graeff. “The concept is that they become inspired by the high quality of music from their older counterparts, and they stay motivated to remain in music all the way through the end of their high school career and beyond.”
Graeff credits the district’s six music teachers assigned to local schools for making the event possible.
“Without their devotion and countless extra hours of working with students at the end of the normal work day, this high-quality performance would not be possible,” he said.
Graeff coordinates the event, but credit the teachers for pulling it off.
“The teachers do the real work and, in addition to their other duties, they spend extra time with the kids either during the school day or after school preparing for this event. It really shows their dedication and skill.”
The teachers Graeff refers to include Janessa Anderson, choral teacher at Mt. Woodson Elementary and Ramona High; Daniel James, instrumental at Ramona High; Karl Lampe, instrumental at elementary schools and OPMS; Valerie McElroy, choral at Hanson Elementary and Ramona Community School; Heather Rager, choral at OPMS and Ramona Elementary; and Donna Ransdell, choral at Barnett Elementary and James Duke Elementary.
Unfortunately, Graeff said, because of budget cuts about half of the music teachers listed are tentatively scheduled to be laid off.
“The final decision has not yet been made, so we are hoping it won’t happen,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the teachers’ abilities or talents. Last year we were in the same position because of budget cuts, but we ended up saving the music program, and we hope we can do the same this year.”
The 90-minute concert brings together students from eight schools. Graeff said that just bringing all the youth together is a huge undertaking, and is personally gratifying.
“Although the kids are working on the material for weeks, the very first time they actually get to practice together is on the day of the concert,” he said. “At 1:30 p.m. they begin, and they practice up until the dinner break.”
Bringing that many people together for such an event is not for the faint of heart.
“It’s very exciting for the kids and the adults, and also very nerve-racking,” he admits. “There is a lot to do in one afternoon; we move them around to different venues, we have to do sound checks, and the kids actually only get about a half hour to practice for the finale — and there are about 500 of them!”
The concert brings together students from the Ramona High School Symphonic Band, Royal Blues Jazz Bands I and II, and the Chamber Choir, Concert Choir and Women’s Ensemble; the Olive Peirce Middle School Concert Band, Jazz Band and Advanced Choir and Choral Ensemble; the Elementary School Honor Band (representing all six RUSD elementary programs); and the Combined All-District Elementary School Choir (Grades 4 to 6, representing five RUSD schools), Choir (Grades 4 to 12), and Finale (Band and Choir).
“This concert is our gift to the community, and we encourage everyone to come out and support the music at our schools at all times,” said Graeff. “How could any program centered around music and students be anything but spectacular?”
The Ramona Unified Fifth Annual All-District Concert will begin at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, April 21, in the Ramona High School gymnasium at 1401 Hanson Lane. Admission is free, but arrive early for the best seats.
For more information, call 760-787-2007.
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