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Prep music program celebrating 20th anniversary this weekend

Item by Jim Bishop

It’s been 20 years of making youthful melodies, with no end in sight.

The Preparatory Music Program at Eastern Mennonite University will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a group concert 4 p.m. Sunday in EMU’s Lehman Auditorium.

More than 100 string students, ages 3-18, will perform music from the Suzuki repertoire. The group includes violin, viola and cello students who take lessons in the program.

To help mark the special occasion, the department held a T-shirt design contest. The winning student, Jamie Inouye, 10, is in fourth grade at Waterman Elementary School.

Students who have bought T-shirts will wear them during the May 11 concert and at other public events.

The concert is open to the public free of charge. Contributions are welcomed for the Preparatory Music Program.

This year, the Preparatory Music Program, part of EMU’s music department, has 238 students taking instrumental lessons, 68 in Musikgarten classes, 11 in Junior Strings ensemble and 33 in the Youth Orchestra.

The program got its start when EMU graduate Wanda Teague Alger began teaching Suzuki violin in a local music store in the early 1980s. A Suzuki piano teacher and Suzuki cello teacher joined her, and she moved her program to EMU in 1987.

EMU bought the business from Ms. Alger in 1988, and the Preparatory Music Program – formally, Shenandoah Valley Suzuki Strings – became a part of the university’s music department.

Scott Hosfeld joined the program in 1989 as director and violin/viola teacher and Sharon M. Miller as violin/viola teacher. At that time, 80 students were enrolled in the program.The Shenandoah Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra formed in 1990, partially funded by a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Maria Lorcas is the present conductor.

The 1990s decade saw instrumental lessons added in guitar, flute, clarinet and harp. The Junior Strings ensemble was added in 2001 to help educate string students in orchestral playing. Sharon M. Miller is conductor.

An Outreach Violin Project started in 2002 to provide instruction to area low-income students. This project has been supported for seven years by the Arts Council of the Valley, the Virginia Commission for the Arts for three years and individual donors. Partnerships with Harrisonburg city schools have allowed lessons to take place on school grounds, and the Music Gallery has supplied compact discs and supplies for the students.

In 2007, the city of Harrisonburg asked EMU’s Preparatory Music Program to start string instruction in all four elementary schools. The classes are held after school and are available to all fourth and fifth grade students.

“We view the Preparatory Music Program as a service to the community, providing quality musical opportunities for students of all ages and backgrounds,” said Miller, the administrative director. “It’s been exciting and gratifying to see the growth of the program and to learn of the impact it’s making on students and families.”

More information on the Preparatory Music Program or the concert is available from Miller at 540.432.4200 or at