There has been quite a “buzz” in the violin room in the past few weeks, in anticipation of the possibility that the students might be able to take their instruments home over March break. (after all, why should they sit in a cupboard when they could be played?)  We are very thankful to the SONG board members for granting permission for the instrument loan process to go ahead. It is a bit of an experiment, but if it is successful, it will lay the groundwork for the future of the program.

Since January, the violin students have become much more independent about getting their instruments ready to play, and the skill of “decoding” music notes on the page is developing by leaps and bounds!

I attribute some of the motivation in the room to the children’s participation in the recent La Jeunesse Youth Orchestra concert. It was a long show, but a real eye-opener for many of them and so many good questions and observations about violin playing came of it. Among these was the recognition that the best way to improve one’s playing is to practice frequently – hence the motion for approval for the violins to be allowed to go home with the students.

The most challenging skill by far has been learning how to tune the violin using a clip-on chromatic tuner or a cel phone app. It is so much faster for me to do it ahead of time, but it is an essential skill for the students to learn in order to be able to do it on their own at home. I am proud to report that everyone in the room now has enough familiarity with this procedure to have earned a “certificate of violin maintenance and care”. The faces in the photos are pretty proud, and rightly so.

Jade and Skylar certificates, March 2015

In addition to the remarkable growth of interest in reading, one of the other very touching developments in the room is the occurrence of spontaneous acts of mentorship and stewardship – call them “random acts of violins”. The students are discovering that they can learn from one another, not just from a teacher, and it is becoming increasingly frequent to hear someone say, “I can show you that” or “let me help you with that” when they see that I am busy with someone else. This is the El Sistema model at work. I like to acknowledge it when I catch it (and then I like to “high 5” with my volunteers after class!)

The highlight of my week last week was watching 3 of the primary students collaborating during tutorial time – unprompted by me – reading together from a chart posted on the blackboard. I could have wept, but I picked up my phone instead to take their photo!

Hayley leading Morgan and Wyatt, Mar 2015

I am hoping that the opportunity to spend March break with their instrument, their own folder of music, and a music stand to put it on will yield more delightful surprises from our fledgling violinists when they return from their holiday.

– Deborah Henderson, SONG Strings Program Director