Humble ISD Orchestra Students Playing Historic Instruments Selected to Perform at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention
Woodcreek Middle School’s Viols of the Creek was one of only two college string ensembles from Texas selected to perform at the 2022 Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) annual convention. Thousands of music teachers from across the state attended the convention in San Antonio.
The Viols of the Creek is a historic viola da gamba musical string instrument ensemble that is based at Woodcreek Middle School and is the only such program at any public school in Texas. The set is made up of 15 students and is open to Woodcreek Middle School students. Woodcreek Middle School students who went to Summer Creek High School can stay with the set.
The viola da gamba used by the ensemble is a six-string bowed instrument with frets that was popular from the 16th to 18th centuries in Europe. It was most popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
“The different materials used to make the strings, the use of frets and the different shaped bows are the new concepts that traditional orchestral students need to learn when they start learning the viol,” said Mr. Pedro Funes, assistant conductor at Woodcreek Middle School.
Mr. Funes directs the ensemble. He wanted to give students a unique opportunity to encounter historical orchestral instruments.
“I wanted to give young students an experience of the viol,” Mr. Funes said. When he introduces students to the viol, it is usually the first time they encounter these obscure instruments. However, the students’ curiosity was piqued. “Students were always asking where they could find a viola da gamba, but there were no options.”
The Viola da Gamba Society of America helped Mr. Funes fill that void by providing him with six instruments in 2015 through a grant. His collection of instruments grew to 18.
“Viols of the Creek offers the opportunity to perform chamber music in a different setting without the pressure of competitions,” Funes said. “It teaches them to be independent without relying on a conductor.”
Mr. Funes discovered the viola da gamba when he was a junior at the University of Houston. After graduating, he went to Indiana University where he earned a master’s degree in early music performance.
“Mr. Funes is an expert in the viola da gamba, which most string teachers are not,” said Ms. Jenni Olges, Assistant Director of Fine Arts at Humble ISD. “These instruments are very different from violins, violas, cellos and basses.”
Unlike other stringed instruments, the viola da gamba has frets, a different bowing and bowing technique, and it has six strings instead of four. The instrument is also held in a vertical position between the legs with the musician seated.
Breathing new life into an instrument is an engaging experience for students at Woodcreek Middle School. “I love being part of Viols of the Creek because it gives me the opportunity to learn a new instrument with my friends and play at the TMEA conference,” said Woodcreek Middle School eighth grader Kylie Currie.
Meredith Arechiga, also an eighth grade student at Woodcreek, said the experience of being a member of Viols of the Creek is not limited to music. “Rapes of the Creek gives me a better understanding of how to take responsibility for my actions and how to manage my time more wisely,” Arechiga said.
This is the seventh year that Mr. Funes has led a viol program. He grew up in Pasadena and attended Pasadena ISD schools. He began teaching at Parkview Middle School in Pasadena in 2007 after graduating from the University of Houston. He left his first teaching job to pursue his master’s degree at Indiana University where he graduated in 2013. From there he returned to the Houston area and taught at Oak Ridge High School in Conroe ISD where he directed the music ensemble Aguila di Guerra. His ensemble performed at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2017 and 2019. Mr. Funes has taught music for three years at Humble ISD, all at Woodcreek Middle School.
This is the third year that the Viols of the Creek ensemble has been active in Humble ISD. Students have the option of choosing a high, tenor or bass viol and they focus on music from the Renaissance to the present day.
Playing at TMEA is important for any student musical group. Considering that the Viols of the Creek ensemble has only been around for three years, that’s all the more impressive. TMEA represents 17,000 current and future music teachers from across Texas. The organization works to support the future of music education in the Lone Star State.