By SECC correspondent Mitchel Benson
Sacramento State’s String Project:
Young Students, Young Teachers Compose
a Beautiful Symphony of Musical Learning
A capacity crowd of proud parents, brothers, sisters, educators and music lovers packed Capistrano Concert Hall at Sacramento State recently to enjoy one of the most successful and engaging exercises in music education: the latest Spring Concert of the Sacramento State String Project.
For an hour, about 60 elementary school-age students – most from Sacramento’s Robla School District – performed 14 musical numbers, led by an enthusiastic team of Sacramento State student teachers and faculty. The youngsters sang and played their violins and cellos, accompanied by teachers on piano, bass, viola and percussion. And they performed the final eight songs from memory – with no sheet music!
For many students, some as young as nine years old, the String Project is their first and only opportunity to participate in an extracurricular activity. The key element of the String Project is access. It is offered at low cost and high enthusiasm to students and their families who could not afford the time or financial expense otherwise.
A talented team of Sacramento State music performance and music education majors – and, in a couple of instances, high school students – guides the youngsters. Many of the student teachers say this experience is more rewarding than they ever could have imagined.
“The big thing is that it is a win-win for everybody involved,” said Timothy Stanley, a lecturer at Sacramento State and one of the String Project’s two master teachers. “The kids get low-cost instruction and the teachers get really, really high-quality training.”
Supporters of the program say the benefit to all involved goes far beyond learning to play a string instrument and read music.
“Your project-based learning has got to have an audience and that is what all of this is about. It adds so much more when they’ve taken those skills and they utilize them,” said Mark Lawler, a technology teacher at the Robla district’s Taylor Street Elementary School and former president of the Robla Education Foundation.
In addition, Lawler says the String Project complements the new common core approach to education: “The sense of rhythm, singing, note quality – all that becomes important with common core presentations, with speeches. If you understand the tonal quality of your voice, you can then begin to understand how you can use that to influence your audience. You pick that up really well through music.”
Some of the student musicians said it was scary – but exciting – to perform in front of a large audience.
“Mr. Stanley really teaches how music is done,” said Juliana Guzman, a fourth-grade violinist at Robla Elementary School. Juliana said that performing before a packed house “makes you nervous. Lots of people just staring at you in the crowd.”
Brisa Romero, a third-grade violinist at Robla Elementary, said the concert was “fun. Great. You feel good and, after, you can be proud of yourself.”
Sacramento State’s String Project offers affordable, large group classes at different levels: beginners, intermediate and orchestra. Beginners are offered either violin or cello in classes that meet on Monday and Wednesday afternoons on the Sacramento State campus (or Monday afternoon at Sacramento State and Saturday morning at Main Avenue Elementary School).
Most of the student musicians come from the Robla School District, which has five elementary schools, one preschool and a student population of approximately 2,500 students. In addition, the program welcomes home-schooled students and students in Montessori and Waldorf schools.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to come to a college or university at such a young age,” said Joanna Marie Dzik, a student teacher who graduated in May from Sacramento State with a degree in violin performance. “If I knew about it [in elementary school] I would have probably gone myself.
“It’s also wonderful to play on stage where college students perform,” added Dzik. “And they gain a lot of insight into how well their peers play and you kind of strive to practice more and become a better musician. You don’t get that with private lessons. Some of them grow up in this program and stay for quite a few years. It’s great watching them grow.”