Letter to Orchestra Parents from Mr Kolk

Hello Garfield Orchestra Parents and Families!

Welcome to one of the strangest years of all of our lives. I am writing to update you all on what our Orchestra classes have been up to, where we hope to go, and to introduce (or re-introduce) everyone to our booster organization, the Friends of Garfield Orchestras.

So how do we make music in a remote learning environment? Preparing for this year has forced me, along with my colleagues Blake Saunders (choir/drumline) and Jared Sessink (band/jazz), to reflect deeply on the fundamentals of our teaching philosophies. I’ve come to the following place: Orchestra, at its core, teaches us (a) sustained growth over time – refining skills on our instruments day after day until our consistent efforts have brought us to new and previously unimagined places, and (b) the power and practice of collaboration – by working together we can create something that is bigger than any one of us by ourselves.

With this philosophy in mind, our year has started to take shape. Focusing on sustained growth over time and collaboration in a distance learning environment have required the use of new tools, and we have spent the first three weeks of our school year familiarizing ourselves with these new tools. Here is where we are at and where we are going:

Classes are starting with warm-ups, designed to model individual practice. We have also begun work on our first pieces of music for the whole class, and the coming days will involve the whole class working through the technical challenges and musical opportunities that each piece provides. Outside of class, we are utilizing a program called Upbeat Music to allow for video-conference-style sectional rehearsals! Students are meeting in small groups, recording a short excerpt in real time, and then hearing the combined recordings of everyone in the group – almost like being together in the same room practicing a section of the music. These small groups allow for a great deal of student leadership opportunities, as well as a modicum of social interaction (something we are all missing dearly these days!).

We are also meeting as an entire music department with students in the Band, Choir, and Drumline classes to learn about Music Production. We are using a program called Audacity to explore multi-track recording, editing, and the creation of high quality audio tracks. Our hope is that students will take this in unique and creative directions as they become more and more familiar with the tools they have access to!

One of our overarching goals is to put together full ensemble recordings. These recordings will come out of our sectional work as well as our work in music production. While everything this year has felt like a moving target, I believe we will be able to see and hear the results of this work by Thanksgiving. Once our recordings are compiled, we will use them as the headlining elements of a Concert Production that will also feature individual and small group student work. I hope to establish a firm date for this event within the next few weeks, and look forward to inviting all of you to celebrate the artistry of our students.

Finally, I would like to introduce all parents, new and old, to the organization that is making all of this possible: the Friends of Garfield Orchestra, or FOGO! This non-profit, run by parents of Garfield Orchestra Students, has served in the past to provide our program with all of the instruments, coaching, sheet music, and supplies that our students have needed to make beautiful music. This year is no different! Already FOGO has provided our students with hundreds of dollars of music, as well as subscriptions to Upbeat Music (at a rate of $15 per student).

Typically, we have begun our year by requesting an “Activity Fee” of $100 to make  all of this possible. We are forgoing that practice this year, but still encourage you to consider making a donation towards our program. This can easily be done through our website, or by sending a check to

Friends of Garfield Orchestra (FOGO)
PO Box 22749
Seattle, WA 98122-0749

Your support will allow us to continue providing access to the highest quality programs and materials as we navigate through this year.

All families, especially parents who are new to our program, please update your contact information with FOGO so that we can stay in touch with our activities by following this link:

Additionally, I would like to personally encourage you to become involved with FOGO!  We hold monthly meetings that are open to all parents, and still have several official board positions that we are looking to fill. We rely on parent volunteers to assist in running and organizing programs during traditional school years, and this year will be especially relying on parental support and ingenuity in crafting meaningful experiences for our whole community. Our first e-meeting will be taking place on Tuesday, October 20th, at 7:00pm, and successive meetings will be held on the first Tuesday of the month (with the exception of November, as that coincides with a certain very important national event – VOTE!). Update your contact information using the link above and we will send a meeting link to your inbox.Please consider becoming involved and supporting your students growth as a musician!

More to come as the year continues to evolve in more weird and wonderful ways. Wishing you all continued health and safety – and missing you all ever so dearly. Best,

Bryan Kolk

Orchestra Director, Garfield High School