Woodcreek Middle School’s Viols of the Creek perform at a preview concert before the Texas Music Educator Association’s annual convention. Front row, from left, Kendall Coverson of Summer Creek High School; Jacob Ortiz of Woodcreek Middle School. Back row, from left, Grace Fusco of Summer Creek High School; and Kate Williams of Woodcreek Middle School.

Woodcreek Middle School’s Viols of the Creek was one of only two Texas middle school string ensembles selected to perform at the 2022 Texas Music Educators Association’s (TMEA) annual convention. Thousands of music educators from across the state attended the convention in San Antonio.

The Viols of the Creek is an ensemble of viola da gamba historic musical string instruments that is based at Woodcreek Middle School and is the only program of its kind in any Texas public school. The ensemble is made up of 15 students and is open to students at Woodcreek Middle School. Woodcreek Middle School students who have gone on to Summer Creek High School can remain with the ensemble.

The viola da gamba used by the ensemble is a bowed six-stringed instrument with frets that was popular from the 16th to 18th centuries in Europe. It was most popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. 

“The different materials used to manufacture strings, use of frets, and differently shaped bow are the new concepts for traditional orchestra students to learn when they begin learning viol,” Mr. Pedro Funes, assistant orchestra director at Woodcreek Middle School, said.

Mr. Funes directs the ensemble. He wanted to give students a unique opportunity to encounter historic orchestra instruments.

“I wanted to give younger students experience on the viol,” Mr. Funes said. As he introduces students to viol, it is generally their first time to encounter these obscure instruments. However, the students’ curiosity was piqued. “Students would always ask where they could find a viola da gamba, but there were no options.”

The Viola da Gamba Society of America helped Mr. Funes fill this void by providing him with six instruments in 2015 through a grant. His collection of instruments has grown to 18.

“Viols of the Creek offers an opportunity to play chamber music in a different setting without the pressure of competitions,” Mr. Funes said. “It teaches them to be independent without relying on a conductor.”

Mr. Funes discovered the viola da gamba when he was a junior at the University of Houston. After graduating, he went on to Indiana University where he received a master’s in early music performance.

“Mr. Funes is an expert in viola da gamba, which is not the case with most string educators,” Ms. Jenni Olges, Humble ISD assistant director of fine arts, said. “These instruments are very different from violins, violas, celli and basses.” 

Unlike other string instruments, the viola da gamba has frets, a different bow and bow technique, and it has six strings instead of four. The instrument is also held in a vertical position between the legs with the musician seated.

Bringing new life to an instrument is an enticing experience for the students at Woodcreek Middle School. “I love being a part of Viols of the Creek because it gives me an opportunity to learn a new instrument with my friends and perform at the TMEA conference,” Kylie Currie, Woodcreek Middle School eighth grader, said. 

Meredith Arechiga, also an eighth-grade student at Woodcreek, said the experience of being a member of Viols of the Creek is about more than music. “Viols of the Creek provides me with a deeper understanding of how to take responsibility for my actions and how to manage my time more wisely,” Arechiga said.

This is Mr. Funes’ seventh year to direct a viol program. He grew up in Pasadena and attended Pasadena ISD schools. He began teaching at Parkview Middle School in Pasadena in 2007 upon graduating from the University of Houston. He left his first teaching job to pursue his master’s from Indiana University where he graduated in 2013. From there, he moved back to the Houston area and taught at Oak Ridge High School in Conroe ISD where he directed the Aguila di Guerra music ensemble. His ensemble played at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2017 and 2019. Mr. Funes has been teaching music for the past three years in Humble ISD, all at Woodcreek Middle School. 

This is the third year that the Viols of the Creek ensemble has been active in Humble ISD. Students are given the chance to pick a treble, tenor, or bass viol and they focus on music from the Renaissance to now. 

Playing at TMEA is significant for any student musical group. Considering the Viols of the Creek ensemble has existed for only three years makes it all the more impressive. The TMEA represents 17,000 current and future music educators from across Texas. The organization works to support the future of music education in the Lone Star State. 

For more information about Viols of the Creek, contact Mr. Pedro Funes: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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