Orchestra Handbook

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Students,

Welcome to a new and exciting year of music at Vista Heights! I trust you had an enjoyable summer and are looking forward to the upcoming school year. I take this opportunity to introduce myself and invite you to join me in engaging these great students in the excellent education they will be provided.

Enclosed you will find course descriptions, policies, procedures, and other important information regarding the Vista Heights Middle School Orchestras. Please take time to read this material, as the success of our orchestras depends upon each individual working toward the same goals.

Middle school is the paramount time to learn the important techniques and habits that will make a great performer. All of our ensembles are important to the instrumental music program, and every one has a special role in the school, as well as the community. Each student is vital as without all of us, none of us can perform to our highest level! Students will become prepared to enter the high school arena through their participation in the Vista Heights Middle School Orchestras.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at school: (801) 610-8770 ext.127, or email abraithwaite@alpinedistrict.org.


Ashley Braithwaite, Director of Orchestras

Vista Heights Middle School is an equal opportunity school. It does not discriminate in provision of services due to race, color, religion or nation of origin.

Classroom Expectations:

As members of this performing ensemble, students are expected to set an outstanding example of student behavior in and outside of rehearsal. The following rules will be observed at all times in the classroom:

  • Absolutely NO food or drink (with the exception of water) will be allowed in the rehearsal room.

Gum is strictly forbidden!!!

  • Students will come prepared to class, with all of their equipment (see below), and with an appropriate attitude.
  • Cell phones are allowed only as a learning tool, i.e. calculator, metronome, or tuner. Phones are not allowed to be kept on stands or in laps during rehearsal. If the phone is a nuisance, it will be confiscated and not returned until after school. Persistent confiscation of phones will be brought to the attention of parents, and a plan put in place to end this behavior.
Students will actively and positively participate in rehearsal at all times. Talking and questions will be limited to that which is applicable to the rehearsal.
  • Students will have respect and courtesy for themselves, for their classmates, for the instructor, and for all personal and school equipment.
  • All school rules and dress code policies will be enforced in the music classroom.

Responsibilities and Consequences:

It is anticipated that members of this ensemble have honed their self-discipline skills through the course of their previous string experience. It is the director’s philosophy that the only true discipline is SELF discipline. As the students show good behavior, success shall follow. As students show poor behavior, action will be taken on a case-by-case basis. Again, it is expected that students participating in Orchestra know what is expected of them and actively engage in performing to that standard.


Students are required to bring the following items to class daily (all are open to inspection at any time):

Instrument and bow in working condition (Case must have an ID tag with student’s name on it!)

Shoulder rest (violins and violas)

Cello Strap (cellos)

Rock Stop ( basses)

(I recommend Gustave Bernardel for violins, violas, and cellos, and Pops for basses)

Cleaning Cloth (old t-shirts work great)

Pencil (Absolutely NO PENS!!!) Yes, you need one in class with you EVERY DAY….

Method Book:

Beginning: String Explorer Book 1

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Cadet/Intermediate: Essential Elements Book 2

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Advanced/Symphonic: Essential Technique Book 3

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1” Binder (any color, with cover pocket) SPECIFICALLY for Orchestra. ***Please do not get a large binder that you will share with other classes! You need this binder solely for your orchestra materials.***


It is very important to understand that most of the grades assessed in this course are directly determined by the students- including participation and evaluation. Grades are determined based on the following categories:

Assignments =  30%

Assessments = 40%

Performance = 30%

Assignments (30% or about 100 points)

Everything that takes place in-class, in addition to at-home practice, will be graded in this category.

Orchestra Binders will be the way we keep track of all assignments and music. If students do not have a 1″ binder by the 2nd day of class, they will be buying one from me and will be charged a $1 fee.

Participation Records – students will track their participation in our daily rehearsals in this way. They receive full credit for being present, prepared, and following rehearsal rules and expectations every day. Attendance is crucial as there is no good way to make up for rehearsal time missed. Each participation record will be worth 20 points each (there will be 2-3 per term).

Practice Records – students will also track their practicing outside of class. Students are expected to practice a MINIMUM of 2 hours per week, spread over at least 4 days. If students want to excel, they should practice MORE than the minimum requirement. Each practice record will be worth 10 points each (there will be 2-4 per term).

Binder Checks – students will be doing assignments in their binders on a daily basis. Each student will be accountable for getting 4 stamps on their binder check sheet per term to demonstrate that they have been doing their work on a regular basis. Mrs. Braithwaite  will do periodic binder checks in class. Each stamp will be worth 5 points for a total of 20 points per term.

Assessments (40%)

Playing tests are the most common form of assessment in orchestra. There will be many playing tests in class that do not count for points and 2 that do; a midterm and final every term. The midterm and final are 50 points each and will be graded on a rubric. Students are allowed to re-take these playing tests at any time until the final due date for the midterm and final respectively. Passing is 80% or above. Students are encouraged to submit the playing tests on Canvas any day up to the due date in order to receive multiple attempts. Once the due date has arrived, any students who have not submitted their playing tests online will need to play their test in front of the class (or their section).

Written assessments will occasionally take place in orchestra to test students’ knowledge of terms and symbols, notational literacy, and music theory. These tests will always be announced in advance, but will not always be available for re-takes.

Performance (30%)

Students have a responsibility to attend all concerts.  They need to be on time, appropriately dressed, and have their music prepared to receive full points.  Students should plan to be at all concerts at least 30 minutes before the concert begins (call time will be determined shortly before the concert and may vary based on rehearsal needs) and dress in concert attire (as stated below).

Attached is a performance and event schedule—please put these dates into your calendar right away to avoid conflicts.  In case of a necessary date change, students and parents will be notified immediately and every effort should be made to attend. Conflicts need to be identified at least 2 weeks in advance in order for students to receive a make-up assignment option and these instances will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Students will be graded on a rubric.

Dress rehearsals (or the rehearsal before the concert) will also be graded independently of participation points. Some dress rehearsals will take place before school, and students are responsible to get to those rehearsals.  Students should not schedule dentist/doctors’ appointments on these days so as to receive full credit.

Solo and Ensemble performances will also be graded in this category.

Orchestra grades are given in full letters as follows:

90-100% = A

80-89% = B

70-79% = C

60-69% = D

<59% = F


All students will begin the quarter with an “S” (Satisfactory) in Citizenship. Performance beyond the call of duty will be rewarded with an “O” as observed by Mrs. Braithwaite. Students with excessive tardies, or poor behavior or attitude will incur lower citizenship grades.


Attendance and performance at concerts is MANDATORY! If you find that you have an unavoidable conflict, you must notify Mrs. Braithwaite at least TWO WEEKS in advance! Mrs. Braithwaite will work with students in emergency situations, but those situations are rare. If the student knew about the conflict more than two weeks in advance, but failed to present it in writing to Mrs. Braithwaite, the student will NOT be excused.

Concert Attire:

All Orchestra members (except Symphonic Orchestra) are required to wear CONCERT BLACK for concerts.

Girls: Nice BLACK dress, dress pants, or skirt, with a BLACK blouse/nice top (no t-shirts). Skirts or dresses are required to be MID-CALF length or longer! Dress shoes (please NO flip flops or athletic shoes).

Boys: BLACK Dress shirt, BLACK dress pants, BLACK socks, and BLACK dress shoes (NO flip flops or athletic shoes).

Symphonic Orchestra will have uniforms to perform in ($15 rental fee per semester). In addition to the uniform, Symphonic students will need the following:

Girls: BLACK dress shoes, BLACK tights/stockings.

Boys: BLACK socks and dress shoes, BLACK dress pants, WHITE dress shirt.

***PLEASE get this attire early so that you do not have to rush the day before the concert to get it!***

Classroom Maintenance:

Lockers are available for student use. Due to the lack of orchestra lockers, you will be required to share a locker with other student(s). Although Mrs. Braithwaite is careful to lock the orchestra and storage rooms, the school is not responsible for lost or stolen items. Please lock up your instrument!

Students discovered breaking or abusing orchestra room lockers or other equipment will be fined. Please do not play any instruments that do not belong to you; this includes school instruments. Continued violation of this policy will be considered to be destruction of school equipment and will be dealt with accordingly.


As members of the Vista Heights Orchestra, students may have opportunity to travel throughout Utah and Salt Lake counties. Students are expected to be on their best behavior, knowing that they represent themselves, their school, and their community at all times. Parents are invited to join the orchestra on these outings whenever possible. Information about parents meetings, tour dates and times and other performances will be attached to this document. By signing the acknowledgement form accompanying this document, you give your permission for your student to attend these functions. (District functions only)

Fundraisers and Activities:


VHMS Orchestra students have opportunities to perform at Festivals in and out of the state of Utah. With these opportunities, we provide fundraisers to help students raise money for these trips.

Fundraisers are done by the students on a volunteer basis and are NOT required by any faculty, staff or administration.  Any funds that are raised in behalf of the junior high orchestra goes into a General Orchestra Fund through the finance secretary at our school.  The secretary works in conjunction with the orchestra director under the direction of the School Administrators. These funds are used to pay for trips, transportation costs, festivals, orchestra music, supplies, and repairs on school instruments.  Students who participate in these fundraisers are given CREDIT towards tour costs and other extra activities that are not covered by tuition and fees. The director and finance secretary keep track of the credit that the student has earned during the school year. Extra funds that exceed the expense of certain trips or activities  are NOT rolled over to the next school year for student credit, but are used to fund the above stated expenses in the Orchestra Program. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mrs. Braithwaite directly.


Parents can track their student’s progress, view assignments, calendars and events, and review handbook items online at www.vhmsorchestra.com. Additionally, we will be utilizing an online classroom through Canvas.

Pedagogical Touch:

Often the best way for a teacher to correct a student’s technique is to touch areas on the hands, arms, and shoulders to help students form the correct posture and/or hand position. Please be aware of this, and that at all times touch will be pedagogical and professional.

Rental Instruments:

The school has violas, cellos, and basses available to rent for a minimal fee. If interested, please contact Mrs. Braithwaite for a rental form, and pay fees in the office. Instruments will be rented based on availability on a first-come basis. Violin students must rent or purchase an instrument of their own.


If you would like to show appreciation for the VHMS Orchestra program, please donate to the Alpine School District Foundation account for our class. The funds donated to this account will be used in your classroom this year for things like rosin, strings, music, programs, and other essential classroom needs. I would also encourage you to donate to the foundation in lieu of any teacher appreciation gifts. You can donate via paypal at foundation.alpineschools.org or you may come to the finance office and make your contributions there, making sure you enter “VHMS Orchestra” in the “purpose” box. Thank you!