Strings attached: grads return to teach orchestra

One devastated little girl glares up at an enormous cello, while another girl looks to the violin to escape the piano. Fariga Drayton-Conway, KHS Symphonic Orchestra director and 1995 graduate, originally played violin, but when she moved into the KSD, her teacher told her she was too tall and her hands were too big for the violin, so she should play cello. Sarah Klevorn, KHS Concert Orchestra director and 2009 graduate, initially played piano, but switched to violin so her mom would let her quit piano. These early moments sparked musical careers for Drayton-Conway and Klevorn.

“I’ve always enjoyed teaching, even as a little kid,” Klevorn said. “I would play school with my neighbors and I was always the teacher. I would even make little lesson plans and help them with their homework. It was really rewarding for me to help people learn something and grow a passion for something I was really passionate about.”

Patrick Jackson, former KHS Symphonic Orchestra director, praised Klevorn’s natural ability to teach when she was his student. He encouraged her to teach and tutor students in the middle and elementary school program.

“I found out very early what an extraordinary gift she had for teaching,” Jackson said. “I knew that she would be probably one of the top string teachers in the nation.”

Jackson also taught Drayton-Conway. He persuaded her to stay in orchestra when many of her friends were quitting. Jackson said Drayton-Conway was a dedicated and talented student. With Jackson’s encouragement, she realized then she wanted to be a teacher like him.

“I continued playing through high school and college in a lot of ensembles, and doing private tutoring through high school and middle school,” Drayton-Conway said. “That kind of sparked my love for [teaching orchestra].”

Hailey Chellis, senior, said she enjoys learning music from Drayton-Conway, who was also her middle school orchestra director. Chellis said she is excited that Drayton-Conway and Klevorn are working together to carry on Jackson’s legacy.

“They are trying to fill [Jackson’s] shoes and live up to his standard,” Chellis said. “Which is really difficult for new teachers, but I think Klevorn and Drayton-Conway both bring different things to the table, and I think that the way they are co-teaching and working together really fulfills that Jackson role.”

Clayton Pokorny, senior, said he is excited to have Drayton-Conway teach him again because he had her at Nipher Middle School. Pokorny said his eighth grade class was close to Drayton-Conway because they were her first class in KSD.

“She is really caring,” Pokorny said. “You can tell that immediately from her posture, her body language and the way she treats everybody. She is super invested in us as musicians and also she cares about what other interests we have.”

Drayton-Conway, former Concert Orchestra director, said she almost did not apply for the Symphonic Orchestra director position. She said she was worried she was not good enough and that her Concert Orchestra students would feel unimportant.

“With the process of it all, I still second guess myself throughout the whole thing,”  Drayton-Conway said. “I didn’t want the kids in Concert Orchestra to think I was abandoning them, but I just didn’t want to regret not trying. This particular position was like a dream job, and I never thought I would have the opportunity to even apply.”

Klevorn said she is delighted to work with Concert Orchestra because she knows they are capable of playing at a high level, and she wants to help them be the best they can be. Klevorn said her vision for Concert Orchestra is that they have a group and product they are proud of.

“What I would really like to see happen in the future is for the whole class to pull together as a group,” Klevorn said, “and for everybody to be motivated and excited about working together to make something special.”

Kiden Smith, sophomore, said she is excited to see a new perspective of teaching from Klevorn and is looking forward to what she will accomplish this year. Smith said Klevorn is pretty persistent in getting the orchestra perfect.

“She’ll re-do things till they’re absolutely perfect,” Smith said. “She doesn’t hold back with telling us that we did well or didn’t do well.”

Both Drayton-Conway and Klevorn are excited about getting to work with new students and leave an effect on their high school musical career. They hope to grow the student’s love for orchestra and help them achieve greatness.

“My favorite part of teaching orchestra is when a kid finally gets it,” Drayton-Conway said. “Even if they’re struggling with something and they don’t understand maybe how to play a passage, and then they hear themselves in the group and it all fits together. I love that part.”