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Lapwai Schools Orchestra Program

Lapwai School District #341

The goal of the Lapwai Schools Orchestra Program was to create and equip a string instrument ensemble for Lapwai Middle/High School students and provide opportunities for these students to view and participate in orchestra performances; as well as peers, parents, extended family, and the general Lapwai population. The program was located in Lapwai, ID with orchestra, band and other students traveling to Lewiston, Moscow and Rathdrum, ID. Fine arts expression is very important in Native culture; Lapwai schools have offered band, choir, dance, drama and Native culture arts in the past but never stringed instruments.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How can Lapwai schools offer opportunities for all students to reach their full potential?

The Lapwai Schools Orchestra Program fostered the schools mission, “Together, we ensure all students will reach their full potential” by providing another diverse learning opportunity for Lapwai students, which was significant given the importance of music within the Nez Perce (NiMiiPuu) Culture. The Lapwai School’s Orchestra Program introduced students to a new media of artistic expression; opened a new horizon of possibilities for career opportunities, and lifetime enjoyment. The Lapwai Schools Orchestra Program gave the students opportunity to reach their full potential through musical knowledge.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Students became attached to their own unique instrument. Three of the students developed technical playing skills beyond the level of the instructor. One student listened to the string music that had played on the sinking Titanic, learned the melody by ear and then demonstrated the solo for our string class. One senior student had his violin used as a prop in his senior individual graduation photo. He will be attending college in the fall and is currently attempting to locate a private violin instructor near the college he will be attending. The music director located a traditional NiMiiPuu song from a 1905 recording entitled “Serenade.” This was a song that was sung by men and women around the campfire near the dawn departure of a war party. The director transcribed the melody and developed variations upon the melody to create an orchestra piece for the students to play in ensemble. All students participating were Native Indigenous students. These students performed at Lewis Clark State College for the Native American Awareness Conference the week of March 13th – 17th. Students in the string instrument program were photographed and featured in the Ta’s Tito’ogan, local tribal newspaper; in two editions of the Lapwai School District Superintendent’s Weekly Update (2/22/17 & 3/17/17, attached); in the Lewiston Morning Tribune following a concert provided by the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival; and in the Spokesman-Review following attendance at a Spokane Symphony Orchestra concert. Students performed for an Indigenous concert at the local reservation casino during the 4th quarter and during the high school graduation ceremony.


Students (1) learned and demonstrated proper care and cleaning of instruments; (2) learned the parts of the violin, viola, cello or bass and the fundamental holding and playing techniques in learning to play notes in first position; (3) demonstrated the difference in playing arco and pizzicato; (4) demonstrated, using music reading skills, how knowledge of formal aspects in musical works inform prepared performances; (5) identified expressive qualities in a varied repertoire of music that was demonstrated through prepared and improvised performances; (6) made interpretive decisions based upon their understanding and context and expressive intent of the composer; (7) developed and refined artistic techniques and work for presentation; (8) used self-reflection and peer feedback to refine individual and ensemble performances of a varied repertoire of music; and (9) conveyed meaning through the presentation of artistic work.

The program began with sixteen students and increased enrollment to the maximum available instruments of nineteen. After the students performed for the entire Lapwai community at a December concert some parents indicated an interest in their children enrolling in future year’s orchestra programs.

Fifty students and five chaperones attended each of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and Spokane Symphony Orchestra Concert field trips including the nineteen Lapwai Schools Orchestra/String Ensemble performers. Nineteen string ensemble students and three chaperones attended the Lewis/Clark State College Native American Awareness Week. The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival group performed in the Lapwai Auditorium for Lapwai music students.


It is our observation that individuals were shocked to hear Indigenous students play string instruments that primarily have developed from the European countries. Because Lapwai is located in a rural area there are no string programs available for comparison. Creative expression plays an important role in Native American culture and exposure to a variety of music media allows youth to be exposed to something they may excel at, especially for the non-academic inclined, and also provides a venue for therapy and healing. There hasn’t been a string program within the Nez Perce Tribe for the past 10,000 years. Playing a string instrument is a very challenging endeavor. Participation in the string ensemble developed teamwork, organization, coping skills, discipline and psychological adjustment. In the orchestra, students had to work hard as a team to develop a sound that an audience will enjoy hearing. Playing in a string ensemble is a high pressured environment because a student is required to play to a high standard, with a pleasing sound and with no mistakes. It was amazing to hear students play with such passion and intensity during class rehearsals.  Students developed significantly improved technical skills in rehearsal and performance.  Student progress was demonstrated through concerts and field trip performances where parents, peers and the general public observed the beauty of their performances.  Some adults commented that the sound brought them to tears.  Although there is no verifiable proof of a correlation in improved scores in other academic subjects, there is evidence of improved school attendance for some students.