Five years ago, Andrew Pulliam took over the orchestra program at the high school. Since then, he’s worked hard to produce high-quality musicians, while also making sure they have fun along the way.
“Coming into Webster Groves, I knew that the band was a big deal and they had a great reputation throughout the state, but I never heard much or anything about the orchestra, so I wanted to build the orchestra department up to a level where students were proud of what they were doing and could take ownership of the program,” Pulliam said over email.
The bar is set a little higher each year.
“Each year, I felt like the quality of the orchestra program was being raised higher and higher. Mr. Pulliam has slowly [been] pushing the difficulty of the pieces higher, which challenges us to learn the piece. As we progress as an orchestra, we get to play pieces that are more fun to play, which motivates us to practice more,” senior Yuki Ishiyama said via email.
Senior Isabella Pantano shares Ishiyama’s views that hard work and fun go hand in hand.
“Orchestra is much more fun knowing that everyone wants to work equally as hard to keep improving. We get pretty serious at times, but we know that we can still have fun while achieving our goals,” Pantano said.
Pulliam has divided the program into four orchestras: Statesmen Strings Ensemble, Silver Strings, Symphonic Orchestra and Concert Orchestra.
The students stepped up to take responsibility for themselves under his instruction.
“They are here when they are supposed to be, and when they want to be. The orchestra students are really proud of the work that we’ve done over the years and so am I,” Pulliam said. “I really believe that they understand that they can do and achieve a lot more than they ever could have imagined in music.”
“The orchestra program has become more challenging requiring more commitment from the students. It has been this way since I was a freshman, but COVID obviously prevented a lot of the possible development,” junior Josh Delay said over email.
COVID made the changes even more noticeable.
“When I first started at the high school it was the weird covid year, so orchestra was only for one semester…we only had one concert,” junior Owen Barrs said via email. “By contrast, now, Mr. Pulliam has worked us really hard to perform and succeed at places like the MMEA conference and the solo and ensemble contest.”
Students credit Pulliam for their success.
“This orchestra will not be where it is today without him. I cannot thank more for building such a strong orchestra program,” Ishiyama said. “This orchestra is where it is thanks to everyone’s effort into this program and the parents who support us.”
Senior Celia Alexander reflected Ishyama’s sentiments.
“He has worked tirelessly for years to get the orchestra program’s feet on the ground, and now that we’ve established something this year, I know he plans to keep it going. Pulliam encourages every one of his students to be the best person and musician that they can, which has helped our ensemble grow as a team,” Alexander said over email.
Senior Maddie Wood said Pulliam cares about supporting player both individual and as an ensemble.
“Mr. Pulliam has brought the orchestra to be better than it ever has before. Personally he has helped me gain skill and confidence in my playing. We have him to thank for all the amazing opportunities we’ve had this year, such as playing at the MMEA conference this January,” Wood said over email.
Senior Essence Williams appreciates Pulliam as well.
“He has consistently encouraged us to take our playing above and beyond especially during the time that we were preparing to perform at MMEA. He continues to encourage us constantly, and with our recent performance success at MMEA, the WGHS Orchestra Program has earned much recognition,” Williams said over email.
The orchestra program creates an environment for serious musicians to thrive.
“The work ethic of students has at least doubled. Structure and self-discipline have increased. Students not only take pride in their performances but just the way the room looks. No trash putting things away, holding themselves and their peers accountable, and leadership amongst the students. Student leaders play a vital role in the success of the program,” Pulliam said.
Number-wise, the orchestra has decreased since Pulliam started, but quality wise he said, it’s increased.
“They operate with integrity and always show up to class ready to get better. The students work so hard to create a quality performance, simply because they care. We have upperclassmen who share with underclassmen how much they care about the program and they work hard to pass down a tradition of excellence that we have come to expect from each ensemble,” Pulliam said.
“Webster Groves High School was not known for it’s orchestra program. This year, it was acknowledged by music educators from all over Missouri. This is all thanks to the small changes that took place in this program,” Ishiyama said.
One reason the program numbers might have downsized is because of the time commitment it requires.
“Overall I like the changes that have been made; they have really helped push the program and the students forward and achieve more significant results. The one downside to this is the extra amount of time students need to put in for the class, especially at the higher levels, when they might already be incredibly busy with work from their academic courses,” Barrs said.
The changes and goals Pulliam put in place were for the better according to Alexander.
“Because the group has improved so much, we’ve demonstrated that the music department is important. There will be opportunities to for us to bring orchestra to the elementary schools and show them what hard work can do. This only helps the program grow in the future,” Alexander said.
Pantano agreed with Alexander.
“I do think that it has changed for the better. This past year, we accomplished a huge goal of getting the orchestra to perform at the MMEA state convention. This was the first time the orchestra at WGHS has achieved something at this caliber, and we had an amazing performance. We also have had the most representation in the orchestra’s history this past year at MO All-State Orchestra, and the largest amount of soloists and chamber ensembles making it to State Solo & Ensemble Festival,” Pantano said over email.
Pulliam’s goal for the future is to raise the quality of performance for each group.
“I personally believe it shouldn’t matter what level of ability you have. Students always deserve to sound amazing, so each ensemble in the orchestra program will have performances where students are pleased with their performance, and they recognize their growth as a musician. Especially as they work up to performing the more advanced ensemble,” Pulliam said.
This will be Lydia Urice’s third year on ECHO staff. She made several contributions while taking journalism class her freshman year. She was Podcast Editor for her first year on staff, and Junior Editor her second year.