2018-2019 Muscatine High School Orchestra Handbook

The purpose of this handbook is to be a resource for students and their parents alike in regards to the MHS Orchestra Program. Please look it over and refer any questions to Mr. Thoma (jon.thoma@mcsdonline.org)


The Orchestra Program

Membership is open to all high school students who play a string instrument. There are 4 orchestras at MHS.

•Freshman Orchestra – Meets 6th period in the MHS orchestra room and is open to all 9th grade orchestra students.

•Philharmonic Orchestra – Meets 4th period in the MHS orchestra room and is open to all 10th-12th grade orchestra students.

•Chamber Orchestra - Meets 7th period in the MHS orchestra room and is open to 10th-12th grade orchestra students who pass audition. Auditions for the chamber orchestra at held during the 3rd quarter of the previous school year.

•MHS Symphony Orchestra – EXTRACURRICULAR GROUP. Meets Wednesday and Friday mornings (and some Monday mornings) from 7:20-8:10. Symphony will run from October through March. Symphony is open to all 9th-12th grade orchestra students who pass audition. Auditions are held in October.


MHS Orchestra Concert/Events Schedule

The following dates should be put on your calendar immediately! You are expected to participate in all events that involve your orchestra. If there is a conflict with an orchestra event, contact Mr. Thoma immediately, so the conflict can be resolved. Remember, “I had to work”, is not an excuse to miss a concert. Get the time off now!







Monday, October 8th

Masquerade Concert


MHS Auditorium


Saturday, October 20th 

IHSMA All-State Auditions

All-State Auditionees

Washington, IA


November 15-17

IHSMA All-State Festival

All-State Musicians

Ames, IA


Tuesday, December 4th

Winter Orchestra Concert

Freshman, Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestras

MHS Auditorium


Friday, Dec. 7th

Holiday Stroll

Symphony Strings

Carver Trust 


Saturday, December 15th

Holiday Band Concert with Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Orchestra

MHS Auditorium


Tuesday, February 19th

Philharmonic with CMS

Philharmonic Orchestra

Central Middle School Auditorium


Thursday, February 21st

Freshman with WMS

Freshman Orchestra

West Middle School Gym


Thursday, February 28th

Band and Orchestra Pops Concert

Chamber and Symphony Orchestras

MHS Auditorium


Late March – Date TBD

Muscatine Solo and Ensemble Contest


West Middle School


Saturday, April 6th

IHSMA Solo/Ensemble Festival

IHSMA Solo/Ensemble Participants

Davenport West High School


April 28th-30th

MHS Musical

Pit Orchestra Members

MHS Auditorium

7:00pm (plus 2:00pm on 30th)

Friday, May 3rd

IHSMA Large-Group Contest

Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestras

Bettendorf, IA


Saturday, May 4th

Music in the Parks Competition

Freshman Orchestra

Gurnee, IL


Friday, May 10th

Spring Concert and Award Ceremony


MHS Auditorium


Saturday, May 18th



MHS Auditorium


Concert Attendance Policy

The only excused absences are pre-arranged school conflicts and those that would be excused be the school for regular attendance records such as sever illness, bereavement, etc. Individual instances will be addressed as they occur, but should be brought to the attention of the director as soon as possible.


For ALL performance absences, the following procedures must be followed.

1.The orchestra director must be notified in advance in writing, either on paper or email. A voice message on my office phone will also suffice. Word of mouth, text messaging, and leaving a message on my personal cell phone are not accepted methods of notification.

2.For illness, a parent note or doctor’s note must be submitted.

3.For absences on the day of a performance, you must inform me of your absence with a phone call or email, even if the school office clears your absence for the day. After the absence, documentation must be submitted to officially excuse your absence.

4.Students who have an excused absence from an event will be required to do a make-up assignment. The assignment will be graded and allow the students to receive credit for the missed performance. Completing the make-up assignment is the sole responsibility of the student and should be done in a timely fashion.

5.Students who have an unexcused absence from an event will not be allowed to make-up the points missed.

6.Work for an employer is not considered an excused absence for any performance or rehearsal. Notify your employer well ahead of a concert/trip so they can schedule you appropriately. If you are having difficulties getting time off, let me know and I would be more than happy to speak with your employer on your behalf.


Communication will be our best friend when dealing with attendance. The sooner you let me know about a conflict, the more I can do to help you resolve it.


Required Materials

Each orchestra member will be responsible for having the following at each rehearsal;

1.Instrument (That includes bow, rosin, shoulder rest, etc…)

2.Music Folder with music and methods book




Students will have two copies of music; a classroom copy and a practice copy. The classroom copies are originals and are not to leave the classroom. They can be picked up before class in the music cabinet and placed back in the cabinet at the end of rehearsal. At the beginning of every new concert cycle, you may request practice parts from Mr. Thoma, but you may not take your rehearsal copies home.


Orchestra Rehearsal Procedures

Attendance will be taken when the bell rings. You will be counted tardy if you are not in the orchestra door when the bell rings. Students who are late to class and do not have a pass will receive a detention, per MHS policy.


Once the bell rings, you will have a couple of minutes to get your instruments out, get to your seat, and tune before we begin rehearsal. Once the director is ready to begin rehearsal, talking should cease and we will begin rehearsing. I have no problem with you quietly asking your stand partner a question, but if your talking is consistent and deemed disruptive, you may be asked to leave the classroom.


Basic Expectations and Rules


1.Commit to learning about music and your instrument.

2.Be proactive in your music education (practice, ask questions)

3.Attend class and technique lessons regularly, and account for absences.

4.Bring all required materials to rehearsals – instrument, music, pencil.

5.Practice, Practice, Practice!


Additional Rules

Practice rooms are for practicing music, and nothing else. (i.e. doing homework for other classes, hanging out, etc.) Make sure you don’t leave any valuables in any of the practice rooms.


Please keep the rooms clean. Put your instrument and materials away and pick up any trash you may have near you. Messy rooms = cranky teacher, cranky janitors and more restricted use of facilities.


Gum, candy, food, drink or cell phones are not allowed during class time, as is the rule in all classrooms.


Orchestra Seating

The director will make all seating assignments for each concert series. Students will be paired with a stand partner for each concert cycle and stay with that partner throughout the rehearsal process. Violin students will be assigned to a section for the entire concert cycle. There will be no movement between sections during a concert cycle.


Each section will be seated based on blend of the ensemble and individual strengths. No auditions will be will be held except for designated solos. All other section members will be seated in a way that best helps the development of the individual and the ensemble. There will be no challenge procedures within the orchestra during a concert cycle.


The director reserves the right to change the student’s chair and/or section before or during a concert cycle. If students or parents have questions regarding seating, you are welcome to contact me and discuss how I came to my decision.


Principal Chairs

Principal chairs will be selected for consistent displays of leadership and musicality. Traits that I look for in a principal player include;

1.Plays at a high enough musical level to be given solos.

2.Is always prepared for rehearsals (Music is prepared, has all materials, etc…)

3.Is helpful to the director and other students.

4.Sets “The Standard” for their section and the entire orchestra.

5.Is passionate about the music and demonstrates a desire to lead.



Each section of grading is weighted for a percent of your final grade.

Assessments: Concert Reflection – 30%

Assessments: Playing Exams – 25%

Employability Skills: Concert Attendance – 10%

Practice: Lessons – 20%

Semester Final: 15%

Points for each of the following categories will be weighted at the end of the semester to figure your final grade.


•Assessments: Concert Reflection 30%

For each concert, students will fill out a detailed reflection on the concert, covering their own personal performance as well as the performance of the orchestra. The reflection is intended to be a moment for each student to see how far they have come in that concert cycle, and set goals for the coming concert cycle. The reflection will be handed out in class following the concert and is expected to be completed in class.


•Assessments: Pass-Offs – 25%

For each concert cycle, students will be expected to submit their pass-offs to me via email. The student will use programs like Photobooth to record and submit their assignments. These will be due at the half-way point of every quarter. I will assess the student’s submissions and students will have the opportunity to redo the pass-offs once if they are not satisfied with their grade.

Written Assignments

Written assignments will be assigned throughout the semester and will fall under this category. Assignment topics will vary, but may include brief essays relating to stylistic periods or composers, as well as composition and music theory.

  •  Employability Skills: Concert Attendance 10%

Students are expected to be at every concert that the orchestra puts on. Students are expected to be on time and ready to go by the call time. Attendance will be taken from the minute that students are expected to be at the concert, and loss of a portion of your concert points will result from tardiness.

All students are expected to stay for the duration of the concert, even if their portion of the concert is over. Any student caught leaving a concert early will receive a 25% penalty on their concert grade. Expect each concert to last approximately 60-90 minutes.

Students who miss a concert for an excusable reason will be able to earn back all of the points that they would have earned at the concert through an alternate assignment. The assignment will be given to the student upon their return to school, and the student will receive no more than one week to complete the assignment. It is the sole responsibility of the students to follow up with the director on the assignment.

Students who miss/skip a concert for an unexcused reason will be dropped from the class at semester, unless appropriate follow-up with family and the student is initiated by the student or family.

•Practice: Lessons – 20%

Technique Lessons – In order to help student’s progress in their technical development, students will receive 25-minute small-group lessons during the semester.

Lessons will be scheduled for you every week. It is your responsibility to check your lesson time and to be at your lesson regularly. Lessons times will be posted outside the orchestra room every week for the following week of lessons, as well as on our orchestra website (muskieorchestras.org).

Students who are taking private lessons during the semester are not required to be at weekly school lessons. If you take lessons privately, you need to fill out a lesson waiver form, have your parents sign it, and return it to Mr. Thoma. Then, you will be exempt from school lessons.

Students may pick up their orchestra lesson pass ahead of time if you need, especially on Friday for the following week. This is especially important if you have a Monday lesson.

Students will be able to make-up a lessons during the enrichment period of the day. Mr. Thoma will be available during enrichment everyday. Lessons must be made up within one week of the missed lesson.

•Semester Final: 15%

Students will have 5 options for a semester final. The options are as follows;

1.Participate in Symphony Orchestra

2.Attend a symphony concert and write a 2 page reflection.

3.Performance of a solo piece for the class

4.Performance of a piece in a small ensemble for the class (no more than that a quartet).

5.An independent project (Must be approved by Mr. Thoma at least one month before the projects due date).

All final projects are due by the last day of each semester but can be completed at any point during the semester.

Extra Credit opportunities will NOT be available during the school year, per building policy. Make-up opportunities will be given, but no extra credit 


Extra Curricular Orchestra Opportunities

Students who wish to be more involved in the orchestra program are encouraged to join chamber orchestra, volunteer with the middle school and 5th grade orchestra, form small ensembles, teach private lessons to 5th grade students, and take private lessons. Students who are interested in any of the listed opportunities are encouraged to speak with Mr. Thoma


All-State Orchestra: All-State Orchestra auditions will be held on Saturday, October 20th. Being selected for the All-State Orchestra is one of the highest honors that a student musician can achieve. If you are interested in auditioning for All-State, let Mr. Thoma know as soon as possible.


Symphony Orchestra– In collaboration with MHS bands, the MHS Symphony will feature some of MHS’s finest orchestra and band students. The group will begin rehearsals, starting in October and run through March. The MHS symphony is an auditioned group. Auditions will occur in mid-October with audition materials being released in the weeks prior. Students in all grades are welcome and encouraged to audition. There will be some events that feature the strings students only, such as the Holiday Stroll and the Vintner’s Dinner.


Volunteer: MHS students are able to volunteer with the 5th grade and middle school orchestra by helping set-up for concerts, tune before concerts, and mentor students in those programs. These is an amazing way to see what it is like to be a music teacher, and it is also a great way to get to know some of the younger students in the program. This is also an acceptable way to earn silver-cord hours.


Practice Policy

All members of the orchestra are responsible for being able to perform their music to the best of their ability. The best way to a successful orchestra experience is through consistent and focused practice time. I understand that you are all busy with schoolwork and other activities, but even 20 minutes with your instrument a day on your own, will help our rehearsals flow better. The more time you spend individually on your instrument, the more you set yourself and the ensemble up for success.


School Instruments

Students are able to check a school instrument for classroom use if they play cello and bass, regardless of financial need. A few violins and violas are available for students with financial need. Our inventory is limited so please speak to Mr. Thoma if you need a school instrument.


Orchestra Lockers

Lockers are available in the orchestra room for storage of your instruments and orchestra materials throughout the school day. Each student will be responsible for keeping lockers clean. It is expected that instruments go home each day, especially on the weekends. It is also expected that you keep your instruments in their lockers. Cluttering up the room with cases and instruments causes puts your instrument at risk of getting damaged and other students of being injured.


Because of the significant increase of student enrollment in orchestra this year, there are not enough lockers available to accommodate every student. Therefore, students that own their instruments or are renting from a music company will be given priority when lockers are assigned. Seniority is also factored in. Even then, not all students who own or rent their instrument can be guaranteed a locker. Violinists and violists who are using school instruments will have racks in the orchestra room to store their instrument.


Concert Dress Code

We have orchestra uniforms (tuxes and dresses) that will be issued to each student in the fall. There are some items that students will need to provide;

    • Dresses – Must provide black shoes (flats, no heels). If you choose to wear socks, they must be black.
  • Tuxes – Must provide a white concert dress shirt (tuxedo style preferred), black shoes and black socks.

There is a $25 uniform fee for the school year. This is a one time fee, and the only annual orchestra fee. The deadline for this fee will be in the fall, and will be emailed out.


Orchestra Letters and Awards

There will be an orchestra award night at the end of the year, where students will be recognized for their achievements. Orchestra letters will be awarded to students based upon points that students earn throughout the year for participation in required and optional school events, outstanding achievements (such as All-State), and participating in music opportunities outside of school.


Contact Information

Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns about what is going on in orchestra.


I’m looking forward to working with all of you this year! I hope you’re ready for an awesome year of great music!


Mr. Jonathan Thoma

Muscatine High School

2705 Cedar Street

Muscatine, IA 52761

(563)-263-6141 ext. 1253