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Posted on Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Pioneer High School students named 2013 National Orchestra Festival Grand Champions

By Danielle Arndt


The members of the Pioneer High School Chamber Orchestra gather with their trophies, after winning first place in the 2013 National Orchestra Festival high school string category and being named Grand Champion of the event.

Courtesy of Daniel Rothchild

A new extracurricular orchestra ensemble at Ann Arbor's Pioneer High School was named Grand Champion of the 2013 National Orchestra Festival in Rhode Island.

A group of 20 students from Pioneer's orchestra started a new after-school ensemble this fall at the urging of their director, Jonathan Glawe.

But despite their teacher's assistance in initially forming the group, they are entirely student-run and — more notably — conductorless when they perform.

"Conductorless chamber orchestras like ours are few and far between in the professional world and even more so in the student world," said Pioneer senior violinist Giancarlo Latta. "I've heard a lot of conductorless orchestras perform and they've always really blown me away. The way the music is brought to life by this unified group of musicians that doesn't have a conductor leading them, it's really inspiring and energizing."

The Pioneer Chamber Orchestra was one of 60 student orchestras to apply and audition for the 2013 National Orchestra Festival, which took place Friday through Sunday in Providence, RI, simultaneous with the American String Teachers Association's annual conference.

After an initial screening, the Pioneer musicians were selected as one of 15 orchestras to come to Rhode Island to compete. There were two categories for high school ensembles: string and full orchestra. The Pioneer Chamber Orchestra won first place in the string division and was named Grand Champion of the entire event.

As Grand Champion, the Ann Arbor orchestra was invited to perform in a concert on Saturday for all of the string educators attending the conference.

"We were proud to represent the Ann Arbor Public Schools at this festival," Glawe said. "This was really an experimental group, and it happened to turn out very well. We knew we wanted to compete in the National Orchestra Festival but had no idea we would win the entire thing."

Glawe launched the after-school orchestra in the fall after years of watching small ensembles of his highly dedicated students gather in his room after school to practice and make music together.

"I wanted to give them a consistent outlet with a driving force," Glawe said. And the goal to compete in the National Orchestra Festival was born.

Glawe selected the original 20 students for the chamber orchestra. The orchestra had recently had auditions, so Glawe selected the top 5 to 10 percent of each section, depending on how many players there were of each instrument, he said.

After that, Glawe said the students decided how they wanted to be organized. They selected student leadership, decided they wanted to be conductorless and went about choosing their repertoire.

Latta serves as the group's concertmaster and directs the students most days. Fellow Pioneer senior Daniel Rothchild, who plays the cello, serves as the administrative director. The students also have guest coaches from the local music community who assist them in rehearsals from time to time.

"Giancarlo is a terrific musician and leader, and has inspired the ensemble with his playing," Rothchild said. "... It is through his musical guidance that we've been able to come so far."

Latta has been playing violin since he was six, and Rothchild has played the cello since he was about three. Many of their peers have played equally as long.

Latta has auditioned for a number of prestigious music schools, such as Juilliard, the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston and The Cleveland Institute of Music, to attend in the fall.


The Pioneer Chamber Orchestra performing in Rhode Island Saturday.

Courtesy of Daniel Rothchild

Latta said he has hopes of either participating in or someday launching his own touring conductorless chamber orchestra.

Rothchild said with a conductorless orchestra, everyone has to be aware of how his or her instrument's part fits into the broad scheme of the piece.

"I'm just so proud of everybody. It's great what we've done," Latta said of his Pioneer High School ensemble. "To be interacting with so many talented people, not just on a musical level — we've become a very close-knit group, and we've been able to create something together — it's been really special."

Rothchild added it's been an amazing growing experience.

"Everyone is encouraging and supportive of everyone else. It's probably astonishing to see teenagers being this mature," he said with a chuckle. "It's an emotional experience to play together with so many people in this way. It's kind of intimate, in that we're all putting ourselves on the line with each other.

"When we play, we're not safe. You have to step out on a limb and maybe look up from your music more than you think you're comfortable with and watch someone else's bow to make sure you're in time. If someone starts rushing, you either have to speed to join them or hope they see and interpret your staring them down because there's no (conductor) up front to keep everyone in check."

Watch the Pioneer Chamber Orchestra perform "Serenade for Strings" by Tchaikovsky earlier this school year:

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 6:49 p.m.

What a wonderful accomplishment. Kudos to all.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

The choir has their local festival competition in Northville in 2 weeks and at the state level next month. Yes, Pioneer does win its awards don't they? The choir always seems to come home with honors. Sounds like Pioneer is doing something right with its music.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 11 p.m.

I am not an Ann Arbor parent, but I am guilty of what you are stating.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 7:50 p.m.

I dislike sounding elitist but Ann Arbor families, as a community, probably expose their children to music and other arts more than many other communities and then nurtures those showing talent.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

I hope that the entire community learns about this. I speak as someone who began playing violin in the Detroit Public Schools in 5th grade, and who has gone on to have a career in music which I continue in Ann Arbor. These students are learning much more than how to play the particular music on their stands. They are learning communication skills and sensitivity to the actions and needs of others, skills which will serve them well in whatever endeavor they find themselves as they grow. Ann Arbor must never lose its fine music program in the schools. Our future depends on students like these.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

So true. Well said.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:11 p.m.

Wow, congratulations to this group of musicians. What a nice honor.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.

When you can play music like this, why do you need a trophy?


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 10:17 p.m.

@music8183 -- You are absolutely correct. Parents absolutely can be weaned from the need for any musical competition. News media outlets, however, will never publish anything without one. My point was that D8ton, or anyone else, would never had heard about these talented students without the competition.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

Replying to Gail.... I'm just not convinced that this is true. Our obsession with trophies in school music is something we (in my case, a music educator) have put on ourselves. The young musicians don't need trophies because they "get it" -- "It" being that music is the thing, not winning. They respond not to "winning" a trophy but to the richness earned through music performance and the sharing of the experience....and audience, parental and civic pride of that performance. Every time we choose to make it about competing and "winning" we set ourselves back. Parents can be weaned from music competitions quite easily. The community can be changed in time, and, there are other ways for musicians to get in the news -- ultimately it will be richer, more meaningful attention. Leaving winning and ranking to the sports teams. We don't need it -- we have art. You have to really believe this and live this for it to work. But it can.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

D8ton, because, alas, you'd never have seen anything about these wonderfully talented students had there not BEEN a trophy. Without a "winner/loser" or "best/worst" or "controversial" label, media outlets, including, publish nothing regarding talented students (or anything else, for that matter). Incredible artistic, literary, and academic achievements happen in schools every single day. Students and their teachers accomplish daily miracles. We, however, only get to see the sports scores on a daily basis.

Susan Lignell

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

Pioneer's Orchestra program is amazing. Thanks to Mr. Glawe for his support for all of the musicians. Congratulations to this chamber group for their huge success in winning this competition.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.



Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.