Making music and friends

Published: Nov. 10, 2019 at 6:01 PM CST
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Music is a universal language.

And at three Bismarck schools, music is helping build some unique friendships.

You could say, Josiah Thinburg is happiest here.

“I like this one,” said Thinburg, as he demonstrates on his cello.

Thinburg is a fifth grader at Miller Elementary in Bismarck. He’s learning to play the cello

“This is my first year of playing the cello,” he said,

Twice a week, Thinburg and a few other students at Miller Elementary gather to learn to play stringed instruments. Maria Janes is quick to share her favorite note.

“It’s an ‘eek’ sound,” the fifth grader explains after being asked why she likes that note.

Known to his students as “Mr. B.” Ross Baumgardner started this very special orchestra to give more students a chance to make music.

“Music is so important for everybody and taking away barriers is something worthy to strive for. We do what we can and make it possible for anybody to play,” explained Baumgardner.

He’s using the United Sound program to teach these young musicians. Strings are color coded and sheet music is simplified. Miller is the first elementary school in the district to use United Sound, but this is the third year of the program at Horizon Middle School.

“I’m flabbergasted. It’s grown a lot faster than my wildest dreams,” said Jeremy Overbeck, orchestra instructor at Horizon.

Forty-four students are involved this year. They meet after school once a week. It’s a mix of mentors and new musicians.

“I just really like it because I help teach people,” said Aiden Johnson, seventh grade cellist.

“I really look forward to coming to United Sound,” said Shaylee Sitter, a seventh grade violinist.

Because here, they’re not only making music, they’re also making friends, and learning some important life lessons.

“Not only their mentor become their friend, form a positive relationship with them,” explained Haley Mezger, seventh grade violinist.

“It brings a lot of joy and it’s fun to help them learn and share the joy,” added Aubrey Jensen, seventh grader who also plays the violin.

“It broadens your understanding of people and empathy and being able to be a good person,” said Hatley Hetletved, seventh grade violinist.

“Making music is just a side benefit. This is our avenue to building those friendships,” said Overbeck.

Building friendships and awareness, one note at a time.

Overbeck has also expanded United Sound to Century High School for the first time ever this year. United Sound has been so impressed with how Bismarck schools have implemented the program, they’re planning a trip to visit and hear these musicians for themselves in the spring.

To learn more about United Sound, visit

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