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Image by Weston MacKinnon

Journey by theNorth Star

2023 • Multilevel String Orchestra • 4'

A rich standalone piece and an exciting way to invite older and younger players to perform together.

Virtual realization of all orchestras.

Premiered by the Pickerington School Orchestras (Pickerington, Ohio). 167 student players, grades 7-12. Jordan Koogler, director.

Here's the magic


Journey by the North Star is a thoughtfully crafted multilevel piece that is musically rich and pedagogically sound. Built as a rondo (ABACADA), the primary North Star theme (adjacent to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star") leads the ship across the sea. In contrasting sections, more advanced students introduce new musical ideas—the ship sailing, stormy seas, and a sea monster. These ideas are blended with each restatement of the North Star theme.


I specifically designed the North Star theme with the youngest players in mind and made it crucial to the work, not a simplification of another idea. This theme is the guiding light which brings the ship to safe harbor. The theme is mostly the same, with modest changes in the repetition, and can be supported by intermediate or advanced players.

The balance of the North Star theme and contrasting themes keeps the piece accessible to young players, offers interest and challenge for older players, and re-contextualizes a simple idea with a broader array of harmonies, colors, and rhythms.


This works alone and as a side-by-side piece with the following orchestra combinations:

  1. Advanced Only

  2. Advanced + Intermediate

  3. Advanced + Intermediate + Elementary

  4. Intermediate Only

  5. Intermediate + Elementary

(These designations are generally aligned with most high school, junior high, and middle school programs.)


"North Star" is a fabulous end-of-year piece for a combined concert. It might also be performed by older students in the fall and played again at the spring concert with the younger students (a fantastic motivator!).


Young students will need to know:

  • The D major scale

  • Limited use of C♮ and F♮

  • Simple rhythms in 3/4 time

  • Playing pizzicato and arco (no changes within a single section; lots of time to pick up the bow between restatements of the theme)

Intermediate students will need to know the above plus:

  • Some use of the notes B♭, E♭, and A♭

  • Limited half-step chromaticism in a repeated pattern

  • Shifting into 3rd position (upper strings)

  • Some 8th-note syncopation; some 16th notes

  • Legato, staccato, accent, tremolo

  • Playing grace notes and trills

Advanced students will need to know the above plus:

  • Shifting into higher positions (for Violin 1 and cello)

  • More complex rhythms including 16th notes


I created pedagogical sheets for rehearsal support and to teach students about the concepts of harmonic planing and mixed meter for this work. These can enhance the ensemble's listening, performance, and overall understanding of the work's structure and can be used at the director’s discretion.

Samples of the director's copy are here:

Pedagogical Sheet: Mixed Meter (Advanced Orchestra)

Pedagogical Sheet: Harmonic Planing

All materials will be available here for download in April 2024.


Download here. 


  • A balanced track of all 3 levels of orchestra

  • Advanced rehearsal tracks: Each part boosted, plus a balanced track that isolates the advanced orchestra.

  • Intermediate rehearsal tracks: Each part boosted, plus a balanced track that isolates the advanced orchestra.

  • Elementary rehearsal tracks: Upper strings & Lower strings boosted, plus a track which boosts all elementray strings over the advanced & intermediate orchestras (so they can hear how it will fit together).

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