Sheila (Kennerly) Felder 1987 - 2001
Pham 1994 – 1997, 1998 - 2000
Sheila Kennerly Felder became the Director of Orchestras for Freeport School District in 1987. She received a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa and a Master of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. When she began her work in Freeport, she was the only staff for the entire orchestra program, but due to her perseverance, the orchestra grew and necessitated additional staff. Dung Pham was hired in 1994 as a band and orchestra assistant director, and the two of them worked together in different capacities until Pham resigned in 2000. Felder continued serving Freeport’s orchestra students until 2001 and is currently Director of Orchestras in her hometown for Rockford Lutheran schools. Additionally, she is the editor for the Illinois String Teachers Association, District VIII Orchestra Chairperson for the Illinois Music Educators, a member of the Rockford Symphony Orchestra Education Committee, cellist in the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, and a staff member with Illinois Ambassadors of Music which travels to Europe (S. Felder, personal communication, January 27, 2010).
In the wake of strengthening band programs throughout the 1920s and 1930s, school orchestras declined. By 1940, only 88 orchestras and 430 string soloists participated in regional competitions, while 436 bands and 3,260 wind and percussion soloists participated (Hash, 2009, p. 53). A study in Iowa noted a 25% decrease in orchestras but a 300% increase in bands from 1931-1941. National trends indicated a slight increase in orchestras again in the 1950s, but this trend did not continue (p. 54). Gillespie and Hamann (1998) noted that a study in 1991 revealed an average of 38% of large high schools offered string instruction, with smaller schools having even lower percentages (p. 76). Fortunately for Freeport students, their school orchestra experienced a resurgence during the tenure of Sheila Felder. After the cuts of the mid to late 1980s, it easily could have fallen to the same demise as a majority of school orchestras around the nation.
Freeport School Music:
In 1988, the district was in financial distress and a referendum was held. Many programs would have been cut including the orchestra position if it was not approved, but fortunately, it was. Since then, the program has been growing and support increasing. This was the last time that the program has been in jeopardy.
Under Felder’s direction, the program grew again. Felder stated that when she began, “numbers and morale were pretty low. I worked to improve the numbers and quality of the program” (personal communication, January 23, 2010). Hayes left the junior high orchestra with the instrumentation of 11 violins, 3 violas, 1 cello, and 1 bass and the middle school orchestras with only 7 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, 1 bass (6th) and 10 violins, 2 violas, and 3 cellos (5th) to replenish the junior high group. By 1993, the junior high group consisted of 25 violins, 8 violas, 6 cellos, 3 basses, 5 harps, and winds, brass, and percussion. The growing orchestra program created a necessity for another ensemble at the junior high level and additional staff. The board approved these additions in 1994, hiring Dung Pham as part time orchestra director and part time band assistant and adding another ensemble to the junior high curriculum. The new 7th grade ensemble included 6 violins, 3 violas, 5 cellos, 1 bass, and 2 harps; the 8th grade ensemble included 16 violins, 2 violas, 5 cellos, 2 basses, 4 harps, winds, brass, and percussion. Harps once again became an important feature of the orchestra program. In 1995, W & W Musical Instrument Co. of Chicago donated a Venus Premier model harp with accessories to the orchestra; the total of the donation exceeding $10,000. In 1997 the district traded in 2 Lyon & Healy harps for its red mahogany and brown mahogany Venus harps.
Freeport High School Orchestra celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 1989. A high school orchestra of 43 members, junior high orchestra of 30 members, and a 20-piece alumni orchestra combined for the finale of the concert, performing “Elsa’s Processional” from Lohengrin and “Over the Rainbow”. Guest conductors included past orchestra directors Ernest Seeman and Timothy Parsons (Birdsell, April 8-9, 1989, pp. 6-7).
During Felder’s tenure, orchestra students had many and varied opportunities for growth as musicians. Students from junior high through high school enjoyed the experience of playing with a full, symphonic orchestra again. In addition to their traditional concert programs, students attended an annual Chicago Symphony Orchestra outreach concert and participated in group and individual competitions. Even junior high students auditioned for IMEA District Festival. In 1991, 11 8th graders were selected for the festival. Junior high students also participated in Music in the Parks group competitions at Six Flags in Gurnee, Illinois, and the high school orchestra traveled every other year. Locations included Disney World in Florida, Bahamas, and Williamsburg, Virginia. Felder also gave of her time in the summer for a variety of offerings. For example, in 1991, she offered group summer lessons. Twice weekly, students could participate in beginning violin/viola, cello/bass, harp, grade 5-8 orchestra, and/or grade 8-11 orchestra.
Dung Pham was hired in 1994. Her full time position was split between band and orchestra duties. She team taught the junior and senior high orchestras with Felder, directed the second band at the high school, and taught the weekly orchestra and some band lessons at the middle school. In 1999, after returning from maternity leave, Felder wanted to remain part time. Pham took the full time orchestra position, and her former part time orchestra position was offered to Felder. The remaining half time band position was expanded into a full time position.
Pham hails from Moline, Illinois where she earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree from Augustana College in Rock Island. She took a one year leave of absence in 1997 to finish her Master of Music Education degree at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. During her time in Freeport, she also taught private string lessons, conducted the local Highland Community College Orchestra, and performed with Dubuque and Clinton Symphony Orchestras. Pham’s guiding educational philosophy is to help students to develop a
love and appreciation for music and the ability to be independent learners so they can participate in music in whatever way they choose; whether that is for their own enjoyment or stress relief, in their place of worship, in the community, or in a professional ensemble. (personal communication, February 22, 2010)
One of her most cherished experiences at Freeport was the Tri-II Festival. “It was so amazing that four schools would work in such a collaborative way and endure the incredible amount of organizing and planning for a festival that bettered the music education of ALL the students” (D. Pham, personal communication, February 22, 2010). After leaving Freeport in 2000, Pham taught in Rock Island School District, and is presently Director of Orchestras at Hoffman Estates High School.