Through the String Project, students get instruction and performance opportunities. (Photo by Dr. Amy Gilligan/NKU)
By Feoshia H. Davis
Budding string musicians in Northern Kentucky have a new place to hone their craft.
Northern Kentucky University is one of the latest higher education institutions to join the National String Project Consortium, a coalition of string project sites based at colleges and universities across the United States. Through The String Project, students get instruction and performance opportunities on stringed instruments at the university sites.
The NKU String Project started in 2012, is one of 44 across the nation, including one at the University of Kentucky. There also are String Projects at Baylor University, Arizona State, Ithaca College and Temple University.
The NKU String Project is one of 44 across the nation. (Photo by Dr. Amy Gilligan/NKU)
The consortium, founded in 1998 by the American String Teachers Association has a twofold aim: to increase the number of children playing stringed instruments and to address a shortage of string teachers across the country.
At NKU, students can take up one of four instruments: violin, viola, cello or bass. NKU’s program has already garnered national attention. Students have been tapped to perform at the American String Teachers Association pre-conference in Louisville next spring.
The American String Teachers Association is a 60-year-old nonprofit membership organization for string and orchestra teachers and players. The annual conference brings together string instructors and students from across the country in learning and networking sessions.
Off to a strong start
The NKU String Project, in its infancy, has surpassed expectations. Unlike many String Projects across the country, NKU’s has both a child and adult track. In its first year, the program enrolled a total of 80 students. Most string projects begin with 25-30.
“In the Preparatory Music department, we feel that great musical experiences should be available to everyone. That’s why we decided to start a children’s and adult class, which is not very typical. We found that we ended up getting a lot of parents to join. They would take classes as a family,” says Dr. Holly Attar, director of NKU’s Preparatory Music Department.
Entire families were able to join the program because of its affordability, Attar adds. National String Project sites must keep lessons affordable. Classes at NKU for the academic year range from $110 for beginning children to $150 for adults. That’s for two days of instruction per week from September through April, not including typical college holidays and breaks. Compare that to private lessons for children, which can run nearly $100 a month.
Northern Kentucky University is one of the latest higher education institutions to join the National String Project Consortium. (Photo by Dr. Amy Gilligan/NKU)
Students who don’t have their own instruments are encouraged to rent them. The university works with local music stores to provide instruments to students for a reasonable rental fee.
In the 2012-2013 season, the university offered beginning and intermediate lessons for children, and one adult class. An intermediate adult class is expected to be added next season, which starts this fall, Attar says.
“As we grow and mature, we hope to add even more classes,” she adds.
Students practice once a week in small groups and once a week in a large group. It’s recommended children start around age 8. They spend time learning the basics in the classroom, but within weeks begin giving public performances.
The performances serve two purposes, giving students a chance to share their music and bringing more attention to the program. Performances at schools, libraries and local museums serve as a great recruitment tool, Attar says.
“They perform quite a bit which I think is what they love. Kids find a real confidence in doing this, and so they are proud of it,” Attar says.
A boost to music education
Behind all the fun and performances there are serious educational goals behind the String Project. With tight budgets at local school districts, school-based string music programs are almost nonexistent in the Northern Kentucky area. Only two districts provide string instruction across the region, Attar says.
“There is really very little instruction for students in Northern Kentucky. I think our numbers speak to the need here,” she says.
Students in the NKU program can take up one of four instruments – violin, viola, cello or bass. (Photo by Dr. Amy Gilligan/NKU)
Eleven-year-old Jack Murphy, of Burlington, will be starting his third year in violin instruction this fall. He called his experience with The String Project “awesome.”
“The first concert I did I was really nervous, but the next one I wasn’t as nervous. Then we had a bluegrass festival and we got to perform with a real band. I couldn’t believe it,” said the incoming Conner Middle Schooler.
The children and adults taking classes aren’t the only ones learning. As part of the String Project, Northern Kentucky University music education students get hands-on teaching experience as classroom assistants.
“It’s a great place to provide hands-on teaching experiences to our teachers. Usually students who graduate with a music education degree get just one semester of student teaching. Our students could have several years before graduation. These students will be especially well trained,” says Dr. Amy Gillingham NKU String Project director.
Feoshia H. Davis is a former reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer and is now freelance writer living in the Northern Kentucky area.