Budding musicians take to state capitol

The String Project provides musical training and social opportunity.

Elementary school student-musicians involved in The String Project performed at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on March 10. | Margo Reed TTN
Elementary school student-musicians involved in The String Project performed at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on March 10. | Margo Reed TTN

Every Saturday morning, the otherwise quiet halls of Presser Hall are awakened by the sounds of stringed instruments and the laughter of young musicians.

Third through fifth grade student-musicians from the Philadelphia area who are standing members of the Temple-run Philadelphia String Project were invited by State Senator Shirley Kitchen to perform at the Pennsylvania State Capitol on March 10.

The students performed in the rotunda of the state legislature, filling the commodious space with tunes like “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen” and other more traditional orchestral arrangements. The group performed in the late afternoon on a Tuesday morning, allowing building employees and government officials to step into the space where the strings’ vibrations filled the air.

“The students, while performing in a new and vast space, rose to the occasion with their enthusiasm and energy,” said Mark Huxsoll, the director of Temple Music Prep, who was in attendance at the capitol performance.

The String Project, which is part of the Community Music Scholars Program administered by the Boyer College of Music and Dance, provides continuous string training for student-musicians in the Philadelphia area at minimal cost. Students study instruments like the violin, the cello and the bass.

Under the direction of Jeffrey Solow, the master teacher and Boyer professor, and Tracy Parente, the lead teacher, roughly 80 instrumentalists of the String Project meet every Wednesday and Saturday in Presser Hall, the home of the Boyer College of Music and Dance, to prepare an array of repertoire – some of which was performed at the capitol.

The String Project, organized by the National String Project Consortium, is a national project initiated by the American String Teachers Association to encourage the development and dedication to traditional string and orchestral music, especially in schools that lacks substantial string music programs.

The String Project draws students with many different goals. Sean Birch, a cellist in the entry-level group of the String Project, said with a smile that his favorite aspect of playing the cello is that “you get to sit down.”

Melissa Douglas, the coordinator of the Community Music Scholars Program and the String Project, said early instrumental education is important for students who hope to pursue professional music performance.

“You need to start when you’re young,” Douglas said.

Douglas emphasized the importance of musical training for all students, regardless of their musical pursuits. She said she believes musical training can ultimately lead to improved academic aptitude and can contribute to better personal discipline.

For many children and families, the String Project has provided a stable and productive activity that enhances both the instrumental abilities of its students and the quality of life for its families.

For some, the program also provides an opportunity for social and personal development.

“Being that my daughter has special needs … this project has helped her with her confidence,” said Patrice Michael, mother of violinist Morgan Michael. “People don’t have patience with special needs.”

The instructors at the String Project, who Michael described as “warm and friendly,” have provided a forum in which her daughter can explore music and benefit socially.

“It’s unbelievable how it’s become such a big part of our lives,” said Sharon Walker, a mother of two girls involved with the String Project. “It’s been so worth it.”

Huxsoll said he applauds the efforts of his department.

“The kids from the community are getting the cutting edge of what’s going on at the college,” Huxsoll said. “They are studying in the same environment as the college student, [and] the college student is giving them instruction.”

Finnian Saylor can be reached at finnian.saylor@temple.edu.

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