Calling all Firebirds: Free State graduate leads efforts to start FSHS alumni orchestra

In this file photo from April 16, 2015, bass players with the Free State High School Philharmonic Orchestra perform at the Kansas State High School Activities Association's Large Group Festival in Lawrence.

Even now, a year and a half removed from graduation, Jared Schoeneberg still thinks of his old orchestra classmates as family.

Between classes, rehearsals, concerts and competitions, “we were with each other a lot during the week, and we grew really close,” Schoeneberg, a 2016 graduate of Free State High School, remembers of his “orchestra family.”

It’s why the 20-year-old college student is now leading efforts to organize what will probably be Free State’s first alumni orchestra since opening its doors in 1997. All Firebirds, even those who may not have participated in orchestra as teens, are welcome.

Every year during final exams, Free State orchestra director Judy Erpelding likes to gauge students’ interest in starting an alumni orchestra. It was important to her that the group be student-led, Erpelding said in an email, but in her six years at Free State, nothing had come to fruition.

Enter Schoeneberg, who, after some reminiscing earlier this year, texted his former teacher and asked if there was still interest in the project. She said there was.

“I just thought it would be a great opportunity to get back together and have that musical outlet that some people might not have after graduating,” said Schoeneberg, now in his second year of studies at Johnson County Community College.

Schoeneberg, who played violin and later viola in several orchestras while at Free State, still keeps up with music, though he’s not studying it formally. When he’s not working toward his associate’s degree in hotel and lodging management, the Lawrence resident enjoys performing in the praise teams at his church and through the Christian Challenge chapter at the University of Kansas.

He still misses the “unity” of working with other musicians in a large orchestra, though, and hopes to have anywhere between 10 and 30 alumni in the new Free State ensemble.

One day after announcing the project on Facebook last month, Schoeneberg had already received at least 10 responses from interested alumni. He plans on sending out music options to prospective members early this month and coming to a consensus on selections for the group’s concert by March.

The grand debut will take place May 10, during the Free State orchestra’s annual spring concert. The alumni ensemble will play the Free State alma mater as well as a couple of old favorites from their high school days, Schoeneberg said.

There’s one rehearsal planned before the concert, but Schoeneberg said he’d arrange other get-togethers if folks are interested. He plans on making the Free State alumni orchestra’s concert an annual event, with room to grow.

So far, it’s been mostly recent graduates expressing interest in the group. But Schoeneberg hopes to see older alumni joining in, too.

“As many students who want to get involved — we’d love to see them again and rekindle that, get that alumni thing going,” he said.

For more information, visit the Free State High School Orchestras page on Facebook.