For the first time in school history, two groups from Katherine Johnson MS (KJMS) will perform at the prestigious Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA) Conference in Richmond this November. The annual conference will welcome current and retired music educators from around the state and will have performances from middle school, high school, and collegiate musicians.
Anna Sengstack, music and strings teacher at KJMS in her seventeenth year of teaching, will bring almost forty students to perform eight pieces in front of her colleagues and peers for a thirty-minute concert. Ms. Sengstack felt it was the right time for her chamber orchestra to apply in the spring. “I had a solid group of seventh graders and knew they would be up for the challenge,” she said. Two of her now 8th-grade students, Noah Nguyen and David Hwang, agreed the students were ready. The two musicians look forward to the conference and being in the state capital. “When you perform in front of so many people, especially a concert like this, it improves you as a musician,” said David. Noah, who will perform a solo piece, also thinks it will be a good experience for the group. “It will be good to learn from the other musicians and will be great to see performers from high school and college.”
Kelly Harbison, music teacher, and choir director has been teaching for fifteen years, five at KJMS. Like Ms. Sengstack, Ms. Harbison has also considered applying to be a concert performer for many years but felt the timing was right. The KJMS choir, Bella Canzone, comprises forty-five seventh and eighth-grade students. Harbison sent in a blind audition recording and was excited to learn they were the only middle school chosen for a choral performance. “It is such a great honor to perform at the conference,” said Harbison. “I am so excited for my students to perform in front of such a large audience and alongside other talented school groups.”
Bella Canzone is dedicating their concert program to Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician that KJMS is named after. The songs they are singing are all based on the themes of outer space and having the courage to go after your dreams. “It is so exciting to sing music dedicated to Katherine Johnson. I really love the songs we are learning and can’t wait for the audience to hear!” said 8th grader Eva Green. Beth Kofford, a fellow 8th grade student in Bella Canzone agreed. “It’s a small way we can honor the legacy of Katherine Johnson. I’m really looking forward to dedicating this performance to her!”
Both groups are diligently working and practicing during class and after school to prepare for the conference. Noah and David are not worried; they are confident they will be ready. Noah notes that being a part of the chamber orchestra is a “fun experience for all ages of students and a great way to make friends,” he said. “We have our own community.”
For community members asking how they can support the groups, this Thursday there will be a fundraiser at MOD Pizza in Fairfax, where 25% of the bill will be donated to the funds for the conference. For more information, please see the KJMS website here.