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TSO hits milestone with 2nd generation student


Allie Neal will be entering fifth grade at Tecumseh’s middle school this fall, but that’s not her only claim to fame. The ten-year-old will be the first second-generation member of the Tecumseh Schools Orchestra (TSO) program, following in the footsteps of her mother, Bree, who was one of the first students in the program as a third-grader when it began in 2003. 
Theresa Powers was one of the founders of the program back then, fulfilling the dream of Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson, her neighbor and friend who gave violin lessons until she was 90. Theresa and Elizabeth had tried to get an orchestra program started for three years, and when Elizabeth died in 2001 she left the bulk of her $3.8 million estate to the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation, which was formed to support music and the performing arts. Theresa knew she wanted to carry on Elizabeth’s dream of an orchestra in Tecumseh Schools, so she became the Executive Director of the Foundation and continued to work toward expanded orchestra programs. Thirty-one students signed up that first year.
Bree said when she joined the orchestra at such a young age, she wasn’t enthusiastic. “At first it was really just something that my mom made me do. It was going to be a little two-day thing, and then the schools adapted it and it was something that I always really enjoyed,” she said. Of her daughter taking the same path, she said it is “surreal.” “I never thought that she would want to do it, let alone the same instrument that I had, and the same teacher,” said Bree.
“When I heard about our first second-generation, my husband, Wes, and I were both in tears. We helped start a program that many said wasn’t needed and wouldn’t work, which we didn’t believe. And to see it grow and become such a strong program has been very heart lifting and a dream come true,” said Theresa. “The director, Amy Marr, and I are really excited about this. Here we are all these years later going strong and have had hundreds and hundreds of students go through the program.”
In the beginning Theresa and Wes worked to get the program started with then-teacher Bob Phillips, who Theresa credits with its success. The couple helped by mostly carting around instruments for special events. The Foundation helped financially for the first few years by buying instruments, music, stands, and other needed items. The Powers also spent a lot of time chaperoning at events and festivals. “It was great watching a program grow from one group to adding a grade every year all the way through having fifth through twelfth grade, and watching that first group play at graduation,” Theresa said. “Amy is such a great teacher she doesn’t really need our help anymore, so we just enjoy being in the audience. But the Foundation still is there to help financially if they need anything.”
Bree has kept in touch with Amy, who took over directing the younger students when Bree was in fourth grade, and her former director even played the violin at her wedding. “When I told her that Allie wanted to be in it, she was excited and emotional just like I was,” Bree said. 
“I am so proud and excited to welcome Allie Neal, our first second-generation TSO member, and her classmates to the TSO program this fall,” said Amy. “Being able to have a second-generation member truly speaks volumes to the amount of support our program has received since its inception in 2003, when Allie’s mom, Bree, was one of our first TSO students, and we look forward to continuing our traditions and music-making with this generation as well.”
Recently the TSO program has averaged 300 students per year. “I think about Elizabeth a lot when we attend a concert. I was so determined to make her dream come true that I just wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Theresa said. “When (then) Superintendent Richard Fauble told me he would let me have a before-school program, we ran with it. He also told us if we made it work he would consider it being a part of the school curriculum. I really feel Elizabeth would be very proud of what we have done. I just wish she would have lived long enough to see it happen.”
“Bree is a wonderful mom and was a wonderful student,” said Theresa. “A few years back at Christmastime she told me her Dad had her violin restored and gave it to her for Christmas. She was in tears and so were Amy and I, and to think she shared that with me was so heart touching.”
Bree said that when her father heard that Allie would be joining the TSO, he sent her a photo of her during her first year in the program in 2003. And she said that at the annual Christmas concert the TSO allows alumni to come back and play one piece with the students, so Bree and her daughter will both be able to play in the same orchestra for one night this December, bringing full circle the love of music her own mother started long ago. “My mom will be bawling in the front row,” she said.

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