AVON — When Dean Westman arrived at the Avon Community School Corporation to start its orchestra program, he had 40 students in the first class.
Those students are now juniors. Between them and the subsequent classes that have joined, the Avon Orchestra now has about 600 members.
"We're probably the largest-growing arts (organization) in Hendricks County," Westman said recently in his office, as his junior-class orchestra rehearsed in the adjoining room.
Westman, who previously was education director for Music for All, was hired to establish the orchestra program at the behest of current Avon Superintendent Margaret Hoernemann, Ph.D., then the human resources director. They brought in Brownsburg seventh-graders, who had started their own string program the year before, to give them an idea of what to expect.
"These kids are the ones that had the courage," Westman said of his juniors. "Every class before them either did band or choir. These are the first ones who said, 'I'll try this.'"
Indeed, the initial concern was that an orchestra program might filch participants from the existing marching band and choir. All three have thrived since.
"My contention all along is (this would draw) a different kid," Westman said. "The sandbox is big enough for all of them. Avon has proven to be a community that values the total education of a child, including music."
Most of the original orchestra students had no formal training when they signed up. Ari Smith, who plays violin, was one of them. She was intrigued by the instrument because her grandfather plays it.
"I always thought that'd be cool to play," Smith said. "They gave us the opportunity to play in an orchestra. I wasn't really into singing, and band wasn't my thing."