Every other weekday morning at Mount Blue High School, music can be heard spilling from the doors of the auditorium and into the halls. Behind those doors is the culmination of one of the best orchestra programs in the entire state. In a school of fewer than 700 students, over 70 of them play in the orchestra, and historically, the numbers have been over 100 students. Additionally, more than 20 members of the orchestra also participate after school in the Franklin County Fiddlers. Steve Muise, who has been the director of the MBRSD orchestra program for 25 years, says that this high participation, along with the hard work that students put in, is what makes this string instrument program unique.
That participation is helped by the fact that most students in the high school orchestra have been playing for years, thanks to the excellent program for younger kids in Mt. Blue Regional School District. The MBHS orchestra meets regularly during school hours, and rental instruments are available for those who don’t want to buy instruments, making it easy for students to work orchestra into their schedules. Student Julia Ramsey, who has played cello in orchestra since fifth grade, commented on the benefits of having a large school orchestra instead of taking only private lessons. “It’s weird when people say they don’t have an orchestra and they just play by themselves,” said Ramsey. “Talking to people from other schools makes me realize how great our program is.”
But there’s more to Mount Blue’s orchestra than just impressive numbers. Muise also leads the “multi-stylistic fiddle band” called the Franklin County Fiddlers that is made up of students enrolled in the MBHS music program. This group can be heard playing traditional music together all around the community or even touring the world, from Ireland to Canada to New Orleans. Onstage, they are a blur of green polo shirts and gleaming instruments, and as they play, there’s not a music stand in sight – all their music is learned by ear. Thomas Marshall, who plays viola in orchestra and guitar in the Franklin County Fiddlers, says that while being first chair viola in orchestra taught him leadership, he enjoys Fiddlers for a different reason. “I like the people. It’s a really good community,” says Marshall. Ramsey, who is also in the Fiddlers, agreed. “There’s not a lot of places to learn to play fiddle music,” she admitted, “But in Fiddlers you learn from Mr. Muise and each other.”
As orchestra rehearsal wraps up, students pack up their instruments and chat, then disperse to go to their next class with smiles on their faces. Their director grins widely as the students walk past, talking animatedly with them as they file out of the auditorium. He enjoys rehearsal just as much as the students do. According to Muise, “Music is a part of the fabric of the MBRSD community, and it’s really nice to be a part of that.”