Posted October 20, 2010

New program aims to create future string teachers, performers

Kelly and Massa Photography
Young violin players practice during the first session of the Philadelphia String Project.

Nine-year-old Kaleena Gorley stood with her violin in perfect playing position, tucked tightly under her chin with her thumb bent over the bow.

The budding musician was one of several music students who gathered in a Presser Hall rehearsal room last Saturday for the first meeting of the Philadelphia String Project, a new community-based music instruction program hosted by the Boyer College of Music and Dance that offers group string lessons at a reduced price to children who might not otherwise have access to music instruction.

“Kaleena loves playing the violin,” said Gorley’s mother, Marguerite. “She just started playing last year and I’ve really seen a change in her. She’s more focused on her work; learning an instrument taught her how to concentrate.”

Those are just some of the benefits Boyer officials hope will flow from the Philadelphia String Project, which builds on the success of the Community Music Scholars program, another Boyer program that offers community music instruction.

“Children who study music intensely are said to have everything from better academics to better attendance and lower dropout rates,” said Mark Huxsoll, director of Community Music Scholars. “We hope to dovetail off the success of the Community Music Scholars program and provide a great benefit to the children in our community.”

The Philadelphia String Project fills a gap in the local music education landscape by training the next generation of string performers and educators. Classes meet twice per week and are led by Boyer undergraduate students majoring in music education and performance. Participants include a mix of mostly third and fourth graders from Philadelphia schools. Some, like Gorley, come to the class with previous training; others have no musical background at all.

“Nationally, there is a shortage of both string teachers and students,” said Huxsoll, who was instrumental in bringing the Philadelphia String Project to Temple. “Many schools in our area don’t have arts enrichment classes or music programs. If they do, students are limited in the amount of instruction they can receive.”

Many of the students enrolled in the program come from schools where 95 percent of the student population participates in the free lunch program, a marker for the economic level of the families, said Melissa Douglas, coordinator of the Philadelphia String Project.

“One of the benefits is that children get to visit a college campus, they get used to being here and they’re able to develop a one-on-one relationship with an instructor who encourages their talent and challenges them to do their best,” said Douglas.

In addition to increasing the number of up-and-coming young string players, the project also provides valuable experience to college musicians, thereby strengthening and growing the pool of qualified string teachers. Undergraduates involved in the program act as professional teachers, instructing classes, recruiting students, planning lessons, writing report cards, keeping records and conducting orchestra.

“As a result of this experience, students often discover whether they enjoy teaching before actually entering the field; those that find that they do not want to make it their career may decide to change their majors before getting their first job,” said Huxsoll. “On the other hand, performance majors at colleges often discover their love of teaching children as a result of their positive experiences in the String Project.”

The Philadelphia String Project is funded by the National Association of Music Merchants through the National String Projects Consortium and the Children Can Shape the Future organization.