Each year the Aiken County School District brings the Garcia Orchestra Festival to the Etherredge Center on the USC Aiken campus.

On Friday, four short string orchestra programs were presented by a high school senior orchestra, a middle school junior orchestra, a sixth-grade orchestra and for the first time, an East Aiken School of the Arts orchestra.

“Things went fantastically well,” said Ryan Westberry, the Aiken High School instrumental music director. “The strings are better and we're gradually getting bigger. It's really nice to hear how they've progressed.”

More than 150 string musicians participated in the event – the unlikely and welcome aftermath of a small after-school program at Schofield Middle School.

David Culp – the sixth-grade group director on Friday – had started the after-school program and soon, everything seemed to mushroom. A new student orchestra formed at the Aiken Center the Arts and then in-school programs arrived at Aiken High, Schofield and others.

Culp continues to appreciate the support of Karen and Carlos Garcia and Public Education Partners.

The senior orchestra was directed Coleen Marcou, the Irmo High School director, while Rob Nordan directed the junior string orchestra. Joe Laorenza, now retired, brought strings to Aiken High. Megan Jensen, the music director at East Aiken, introduced the string program to the small children.

The other music directors include Joyce Culp of Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School; Kimberly Keel of Midland Valley High School; and Adrianne Blanchard of North Augusta Middle School and Paul Knox Middle School.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter.