Pulling Strings and Knocking on Wood

A spotlight on the FHC orchestra and its very own composer, junior Joshua Kooistra

Gabi Dykema

Geneva, Igor, Ellie and Phil Collins sit next to each other silently, facing forward. Each of them is eagerly awaiting a particular someone to come join them shortly. That certain someone is Joshua Kooistra and those are his four named cellos. Along with the four, he also owns many other musical instruments, such as a bass and bass guitar, a ukulele, a recorder, a flute,  trombone, a lap harp, two violins, and two banjos. Not only is the possession of such a large amount of instruments hard, but his playing of these and more instruments sets Kooistra aside from your typical student here at FHC.

While he can play other instruments, he prefers strings, particularly the cello.

“Strings are my forte,” he says jokingly after describing how he came to love music. “I didn’t get into music really until I started playing the cello. I’ve been playing cello since the spring of fifth grade. It started with my sister playing viola for two years and in sixth grade you have to choose an instrument so I wanted to get into it anyway.”

But Kooistra has gone well and above simply playing an instrument. He has composed well over 60 pieces, two of which have been played by the orchestra here at Forest Hills. Most of the compositions are, according to him, “long and depressing. Not that I’m personally depressed, but I feel it’s easier to write than something frilly and overly-happy. When Alex Kline passed away that was an inspiration for most of my music, actually.” He draws inspiration from death, longing, past memories and the changes that he has experienced in high school. The ideas for compositions that come to him are often unexpected and are jotted down as to not forget them, thus the beginning of a composition.

He owes most of his musical success to his sister Ashley Kooistra, attributing her for his improvement and stating that playing with her has helped him improve tremendously. Following in her footsteps, he enjoys playing with her and looks up to her as, according to him, the better musician. Just as she helped him grow musically, he has helped her with a piece for her music composition class she has taken.

Ashley admires her brother’s talent and has enjoyed seeing him progress as much as he has enjoyed learning from her.

“It’s been incredible watching Joshua grow as a musician over the last several years, from when he played a cover of “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay in the middle school talent show to performing one of his compositions at our last orchestra concert together,” Ashley said. “The transformation has been tremendous. I remember the days when I would lock myself in my room to avoid hearing him practice; nowadays I would give just about anything to be back at home, waking up to the sound of his cello.”

Ashley loves the originality of Kooistra’s compositions, and notes the fact that each composition has a story behind it. Except for her brother, she says, the only composers to create “such elaborate and musical pieces at his age are the ones from centuries ago: Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn.” Ashley also emphasizes how much her brother has helped her in her own musical studies.

“Joshua has inspired me so much, even while I’m away at college. Whenever he sends me one of his new compositions, it reminds me of the kind of dedication and heart I want to pour into my musical studies. He may be my little brother, but I look up to him as a fellow musician, and I’m proud to be related to him.”

As for his future plans carrying on a music career into college, Kooistra plans to double major in college with physics and music composition. He hopes to find a job in music composition but if not, he plans on falling back on a degree in physics because it’s easier to get a job doing that. He is currently taking four music classes: Central Singers, Symphony Orchestra, Chorale and is self-teaching himself AP Music Theory.

The FHC orchestras have played a few of Kooistra’s pieces at the many concerts they have throughout the year. Nearly 100 students in all four grades are involved in the program, and they play a variety of pieces, mixing the classical works of Mozart and Bach with more modern spins on orchestral music, such as the finale of their winter concert, “Return of the Rosin-Eating Zombies from Outer Space.” The orchestra room is often seen as the forgotten corner of the music hallway, but in reality the orchestra is a lively, thriving program which provides music for a wide array of events including choir concerts and graduation each year.

To catch a composition of Kooistra’s, attend the concert for Symphony Orchestra and Concert Orchestra on February 25 and 26 or the Spring String Fling on March 24 for all FHC Orchestras from grades 6-12. “It’s a great feeling to have someone play your music,” Kooistra marveled. “For them to bring it to life.”