When the bell signaling homeroom rang Wednesday at Millard West High School, a crowd of student troubadours carrying stringed instruments and sporting wings and hearts broke into small groups and fanned out through the hallways.
One string quartet — Monica Swenson, Katie Schulz, Will Muller and Aaron Stoddard — popped into a gym. “We have a musical valentine for Lauren,” the student serving as the quartet's handler announced as the group zeroed in on senior Lauren Skrabel.
The group quickly pulled up a chair for cellist Swenson and launched into a spirited string version of Carly Rae Jepsen's pop hit “Call Me Maybe” that soon had most of the students in the gym nodding along.
“Yea, good job, guys!” said a smiling Lauren, who confirmed that the musical message was from her boyfriend.
Millard West's orchestra has sold musical valentines for a couple of dollars apiece for the past several years. The sales are partly a modest fundraiser but mostly a way to build the musical community within the school, said Patty Ritchie, the school's orchestra instructor. It also helps students practice memorizing and playing by ear.
This year, the musicians were joined by several choir students. They also added sweets — cookies, brownies and cupcakes — to the lineup.
“We're doing it for the fun,” Ritchie said. “We're doing it to spread the joy of music in our school.”
The group takes orders for several days in the lunchroom. By Wednesday morning, the members had sold 40 songs and 30 sweets, and there was still another lunch hour left to order. They'll make deliveries again today.
Ritchie said the missives aren't intended to embarrass anyone. But a couple of the musicians admitted that a little good-natured ribbing is part of the fun.
Some of the musical messages, of course, are exchanged among friends. But the musicians agreed that young people do still make a Valentine's Day effort for the ones they love, even in this age of instant communication.
One member of the orchestra, Cameron Ringer, said he plans to cook dinner — spaghetti — for his girlfriend and take her to a movie.
The orchestra has expanded its repertoire, too. Senior Mark Germer said the group used to perform just classical music. Then it began performing more popular songs, which have caught on with students. Both Germer and Ringer, a junior, played Beatles songs on acoustic guitars.
“I honestly didn't expect this to blow up as much as it did this year,” said Germer, who plans to major in piano performance in college next year, likely at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
On Wednesday, he sang along as he played a rendition of “All My Loving,” for freshman Bethany Howard.
Singing, he said, makes the performance more personal.
To make their appointed rounds, however, the musicians had to keep moving. At one point, a string quartet had just entered a classroom to deliver one valentine when a vocal group, necks draped with red and black boas, arrived to offer its next message.
Of course, recipients' classmates also got in on the fun.
As the “Call Me Maybe” quartet walked into another room, someone called out, “Oh, this is going to be so cute.” A girl in the back of the room stood to record the performance on an iPhone.
Josh Preston, a junior, took the delivery in stride. His girlfriend had sent a similar message last year.
Said teacher Ritchie, “It's all meant to be in good humor and good fun.”
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