EMU, Harrisonburg schools teaming up on music program

Story by Jim Bishop

sharon_miller.jpgThe (Shenandoah) hills will be alive with the sound of (string) music as a cooperative program between Harrisonburg City Schools and Eastern Mennonite University begins this fall.
The city school system is funding a strings instruction program through EMU’s Preparatory Music Program, part of the university’s music department. It will begin early October for fourth- and fifth-grade students at Keister, Waterman, Stone Spring and Spotswood elementary schools.

Initially, between 35 and 40 students from the four schools will receive one hour of after-school group instruction for a minimal fee.

Instructors in EMU’s Preparatory Music Program will teach the weekly classes. The city will provide bus transportation for students following the lessons.

Next year, the program will accept middle-school students, fifth through eighth grade.

Joan Griffing, chair of EMU’s music department, said the school system approved the strings instruction “as a result of the success of EMU’s “violin outreach project” begun in 2002 as a way of offering violin instruction to low-income students in the city and county.

At the start of 2007, 50 students were taking lessons once a week after school at Stone Spring, Keister and Waterman Elementary and in evening classes at EMU.

The outreach project has been funded in part by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Arts Council of the Valley. Music Gallery, a Harrisonburg music store, provides many of the CD’s and other supplies that students need, and parents of Preparatory Music Program students have donated used instruments.

The evening outreach project will continue along with the new after-school strings instruction program.

“We deeply appreciate the grant funding that makes the outreach program possible, but in the longer-range view, it will be better to have strings instruction as part of the school’s music program,” Dr. Griffing noted.

Bonnie C. Hobson, instructional supervisor for Harrisonburg City Schools, said she is “excited to see this project move ahead” and expressed hope that it will eventually lead to a string instruction program from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Sharon M. Miller, director of EMU’s Preparatory Music Program, will administer the new strings instruction program.

“This is something that parents and teachers have been requesting for years, and we’re elated to be able to help make it happen,” Miller said.

“EMU has provided string instruction to the community through the Shenandoah Valley Preparatory Music Program for many years, because the EMU music faculty believe that music can enrich everyone’s life and should be accessible to all,” Griffing said. “The new strings program in the local schools is a wonderful opportunity to continue achieving this mission.”

According to Griffing and Miller, the availability of strings instruction on the elementary school level will offer numerous benefits to students. “The satisfaction of learning a new skill, the enjoyment of making music with fellow students while developing a stronger work ethic and problem-solving skills.”

Griffing believes student participants will gain more appreciation for Virginia’s musical heritage – including bluegrass music – and “will be more likely to appreciate classical music and support the fine arts as adults.”

“Studies have shown that students who play an instrument are most likely to appreciate classical music and support the fine arts as adults,” she said. “Strings are an integral part of today’s musical world, from symphony orchestras to movie sound tracks to rock bands.

“Not all families can afford private lessons or an instrument,” she said. “Public school programs like this provide an alternate way to learn to play a string instrument,” Griffing added.

“We’re excited about the potential this strings program has and the opportunity it affords to give back to the local community,” Miller said.

Students may register by seeing their school music teacher or by calling EMU’s preparatory music department at 540.432.4277.

An orientation meeting will be held 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24 at Stone Spring Elementary School.

Jim Bishop is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press.

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