Music students get tips from a master

Tumwater students learn basics from guest teacher

lpemberton@theolympian.comFebruary 24, 2014 

It was a back to the basics last week for students in Tumwater High School’s orchestra class: The placement of their feet on stage, the way they held their instruments — even the way they sat in a chair during a performance.

“Don’t ever move your body — you need to move your chair,” Dr. Dijana Ihas told the students Wednesday, as she demonstrated an assortment of nitty-gritty details that make a big difference during a concert.

The world-renowned musician and music educator visited the school for two days last week as part of an enrichment program paid for by the Tumwater United Music Society, the school’s music booster program.

Ihas, 50, is a professor of music education at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. Before that she taught strings and symphony at Sprague High School in Salem. Her students have won numerous state and national competitions.

“My heart is definitely with the public schools, and that’s what I’m supporting,” she said. “… My hope was if I taught future teachers, I would reach more students through my students.”

Ihas began playing music – her first instrument was the violin – at age 6. She became a professional musician after college.

She was a viola player in Sarajevo’s four professional orchestras and the Sarajevo String Quartet, which has been the subject of a documentary movie and two books for the group’s experiences during the Bosnian war.

Ihas and her fellow musicians played more than 200 concerts in war-ravaged buildings during the three-year war in the 1990s.

“We kept playing even after the first and second violinists were killed,” she said.

The experience changed her perspective on music.

“Once war came into my life, I actually experienced in first hand that music is a necessity — that it brings people closer to what they can be,” Ihas added, her voice cracking with emotion.

So many schools focus on math and science these days. Ihas said she’d like to see music get the same level of support.

“In music, it’s really three parts, being mind, heart and body,” she said. “Music needs to be the core of education.”

During her time at Tumwater High, Ihas taught string instrument technique, went over music to help students prepare for an upcoming high school music competition, led sectional lessons and conducted some private lessons, according to band and orchestra director Peter Klinzman.

“While she’s here, she’s also talking to the AP (Advanced Placement) World History class and the AP English classes,” he said.

Even though some of the students have played instruments since they were young, Wednesday’s class was a refresher on all stringed instrument techniques — all the way down to the proper way to hold instruments.

“Pretend you’re holding a soda pop can in front of you,” she told the cello players.

“I call this pizza delivery hand,” she said to the violin players.

Over the course of an hour, students also worked on vibrato, staccato and other drills Ihas developed for her award-winning student orchestras.

“I love her,” sophomore Aislynn Hansen said after the class. “It was so informative and she had great methods that I hadn’t heard before.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com

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