Jessica Fiedorowicz has been the Director of Orchestras at South Haven Public Schools for 23 years. During her tenure in South Haven, participation in the orchestra program has almost quadrupled and reaches a diverse population of students. She teaches all string students in grades 5 - 12 and at the High School level offers String Orchestra, Full Orchestra, and Chamber Orchestra. Jessica also plays violin annually in the spring musical and acts as the string coach for the student members of the pit orchestra. Jessica has hosted the MSBOA Mid-Level String Clinic as well, which allows middle school students the opportunity to meet others their age who are involved in orchestra and to work with excellent clinicians.
Collaboration within the music department is key for a strong program across the district. With that in mind, Mrs. Fiedorowicz has served as the SHPS Music Department Chair since 2007 and, in 2017, accepted the additional position of Team Based Teacher Leader for Fine and Applied Arts for the school district. Her mission for her work with other faculty members and district administration is to ensure access to the arts for all students. Part of this has been the inception and participation in NAfME’s Tri-M Music Honor Society. This has inspired students to increase participation in Solo and Ensemble, audition for and participate in honors groups, and to consider pursuing careers in music.
Beyond the school district, Jessica is finishing the 2nd year of a 3 year term serving as the North Central Representative on the National Tri-M Council for NAfME. Jessica also has a long association with Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, starting there as a counselor in 2000. Currently, she is looking forward to her 10th summer on the conducting faculty. In the midst of all of this, she and her husband, Michael, have 2 daughters, ages 18 and 15, who are both members of her orchestra and aspire to careers in the arts.
Carol Johnson is Director of Orchestras at Jenison Junior High School, and has been teaching young string players in Michigan for the last 23 years. During her 21 year tenure in Jenison, the JPS Orchestra Program has doubled in size, and now includes almost 600 string players. Carol earned her Bachelors of Music (2000) and Masters of Music (2005) degrees from Michigan State University. She has been recognized for her large group string teaching methods at the elementary and junior high levels, and all three of her Junior High Orchestras consistently receive first division ratings at MSBOA Festivals. Her students perform at many community events, including an annual performance in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Symphony Holiday Pops Concert. Over the last two decades, Carol has helped mentor 24 student teachers from various colleges and universities, and her program is a frequent destination for visiting teachers and pre-intern teachers.
Carol is highly sought-after as a conductor, clinician, and coach at numerous schools, camps, and clinics around Michigan. She has spent many years serving as director of orchestras at MSBOA String Clinics, MASTA String Camps, and St. Cecelia Music Center’s Sinfonia Youth Orchestra. Carol is a frequent presenter at the Michigan Music Conference, and her 8th Grade Orchestra was the only middle school orchestra selected to perform at the conference in 2010. As a guest teacher, she has presented to string students at Michigan State University and Grand Valley State University. Carol has served on the Executive Board of MSBOA District 10 as President, Past President, Chair of Middle School Honors Orchestra, and Chair of Medals and Plaques. Carol was selected as District Ten’s MSBOA Orchestra Teacher of the Year in 2010, 2014, and 2019. Carol was also selected as one of the three finalists for MSBOA’s State Teacher of the Year in 2014 and 2019, and one of three finalists for MASTA’s State Teacher of the Year in 2018.
In addition to teaching, Carol spends a great deal of time performing, composing, and arranging. As a violinist, she has performed with the MSU Symphony Orchestra, the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, the West Shore Symphony Orchestra, and for the last nineteen years with the Signature String Quartet. Carol has always had a passion for creating music for her students to perform, and has also published educational works for young string orchestras through Alfred / Belwin Publications.
Justin Valla grew up in Madison, Connecticut and started playing the bass in 2nd grade. He fell in love with music and the bass right away and played in as many ensembles as he could; including groups at Yale University’s Neighborhood Music School. There, he discovered symphony orchestra, jazz, blues, rock, and other alternative styles of music. In high school, Justin regularly performed with the Southern Connecticut Regional Orchestra, the Connecticut All-State Orchestra, and he sat principal bass of the All-New England Orchestra.
Justin came to Michigan State University in the fall of 1995. He played in the Symphony Orchestra under Leon Gregorian, and in the Wind Symphony under John Whitwell. After student-teaching in Okemos with Marilyn Kesler, he graduated in 2000 with bachelor’s degrees in double bass performance and music education.
He began his teaching career in January of 2001 in the Lansing School District teaching beginning and middle school strings. In 2005, he became the director of orchestras for the Marshall Public School District where he taught the entire program 5th-12th grade, and the Marshall Middle School Jazz Band which was invited to perform for collegiate jazz ensembles at jazz invitational nights hosted by Albion College. He later earned his masters in music education from MSU after he left Marshall and began teaching in St. Johns in 2010. He spent nine years teaching strings and symphony orchestras, and conducting pit orchestras for musicals in St. Johns before coming to Okemos in the summer of 2018.
Since becoming director of the Okemos High School Orchestras, Justin sends an average of 85 events to district Solo & Ensemble, and 50 events to State Solo & Ensemble. He has students perform with the Michigan All-State Orchestra, has had students perform for the MSBOA Concerto Competition, and has earned top ratings for every ensemble at MSBOA District Festival. At the 2019 MMC, Justin presented on how to introduce the blues, jazz, and improvisation to students with the help of a student demonstration group. This year, Justin brought the Okemos Philharmonic Orchestra to the 2023 MMC where they performed an eclectic program consisting of Blue Ronda A La Turk, Voices Shouting Out, and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, among others.
Over the course of his career, Justin has had students perform at the Lansing Capitol, Disney World, Hawaii, and multiple venues in New York City. Throughout his teaching, he remains dedicated to teaching all students to be thoughtful and productive people as well as high-achieving musicians. He does this by fostering what he calls an “orchestra family” where students know they are safe and cared for every day. He makes it a point to introduce his students to many styles of music and musicians. His groups perform classic repertoire as well as pieces by new, local, and diverse composers. This leads to his groups learning elements of improvisation, jazz, rock, and fiddle music along with orchestral classics by well-known composers. Justin seeks to give back to music education by training multiple intern teachers, being a clinician, arranging music for ensembles, and by hosting Festival and District and State Solo & Ensemble for MSBOA multiple times. He has also had students participate in MSBOA adjudicator training workshops. This year, Justin became a co-conductor with the Mid-Michigan Youth Symphony allowing him to work with students around the greater Lansing area.
Justin has performed with the Lansing Symphony, the West Shore Symphony, various community orchestras, and in many pit orchestras for local theaters. He also plays every Sunday for a local church in Lansing. Currently, Justin lives in East Lansing with his wife, Samara, who is a choir teacher in Haslett. Together, they have three daughters; Myah, Julia, and Lara. Outside of school, Justin enjoys spending time with his family, fishing, cooking, arranging music, and performing for his neighbors with his dad-band.