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Laurie Niles

Yes, kids really do love music

October 5, 2006 at 5:35 AM

I just got fifty new students, all of them ages seven and younger!

It all began when the music teacher at my children's public elementary school sent out notices to parents, offering all kinds of instrumental music. Hundreds of children signed up. The most popular offering? More than 50 children signed up for first-grade Suzuki violin, and latecomers still are begging to get in. The school has 120 first graders, so, basically, half of them are interested in Suzuki violin.

Up until this point, our very dedicated and overworked music teacher had been going it alone. I'd said, "If you ever need me, just call..." Now, she did. She called me.

"I can't believe these numbers," she said. "Can you help me?"

We decided to meet for coffee. Ms. O described to me all she's doing: a class of flute, a class of saxophone, violin for older kids, trumpet, clarinet... my head was spinning, just hearing about it.

"I could teach all the first graders, all of them," I told her. "I'd like to do it. As a parent volunteer, until we can get funding, if we can."

She looked at me. She blinked.

"Are you sure?" she said.

"I'm sure, I want this to happen," I said.

She paused. "Maybe one day, then, we could have a real orchestra," she said slowly. "If you did that, I could work with the older children...."

Hurdles remain. But fewer than one might think; there is so much community support in our school for this. Parents are pitching in, writing grants to get money to buy violins. They've already bought 40 larger violins, now they are working to get tiny violins for the little ones. It is such a testament to the importance of instrumental music; our children crave it. And somehow they crave the violin above all: it represents some of music's highest accomplishments; yet it is an instrument that has evolved as the most teachable one for young kids because of the work of Shinichi Suzuki and so many other dedicated teachers.

We start next Tuesday. An army of parents is donating egg cartons and rulers so we can make pretend violins to use during their first lessons, teaching position and respect for the instrument. I put one together today; it's just right, like a quarter-sized violin!

I think this will take every ounce of creativity I can muster. How exciting!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 6:30 AM
That is very exciting, Laurie. I'm glad you're donating your skills, which are considerable, and your free time, which is limited. I'm also happy that the parents are so supportive.

I recently had an experience which is, sadly, very different. I spoke to someone who is trying to organize something similar in the public schools in Washington DC. She is trying to pair schools in affluent neighborhoods with schools in poor neighborhoods, get grants, find volunteer teachers, and procure instruments. The results are not good. There is no financial base of support in poor neighborhoods. They can't even attempt to teach violin because nobody can afford the instruments, to say nothing of accessories and repairs. For now they are sticking to plastic flutes and choral music. They can not get any time during the school day because music is not a core subject. They can not accept help from wannabe volunteer teachers like me because I don't have the appropriate resume to impress the DC public school system. I told her about your volunteer work as "violin fairy" in your son's school, and we agreed that you're a great role model. Her organization is called CHIME. Read it and weep.

I'm glad that you are able to help the cause so much.

From Neil Cameron
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 11:02 AM
Way to go Laurie!!


From Jenna Potts
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 11:58 AM! Hope it goes well for you.
From Donna Clegg
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 1:03 PM
Wow! What an impressive endeavor. Sounds like you are in for a lot of work but those lucky first graders' smiles will be an awesome reward!
From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 3:55 PM
Wow Laurie...50 students! That number belies the rumor that violin is for elitist snobs.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 7:14 PM
I do feel really lucky to be in a community that values shows me how much can happen when people pool their resources. I'm just so amazed by the support that parents are lending to this effort. We don't live in little bubbles; a community can make amazing things happen for many kids. The parent who goes and gets 50 rulers to use for our egg carton violins is every bit as important to this endeavor as I am; it has taken the efforts of everyone.
From Richard Hellinger
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 7:19 PM
Wow... sounds great, and challenging. I just hope the majority of the kids stick with it. In Fairport (my first school) we started out in 4th grade with just over 75 violinists. That number dwindled down to about 30 in just 3 years... GOOD LUCK!! And I hope you enjoy it!
From Katie Bailey Waller
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 9:09 PM
Wow... what a wonderful program you are involved in! Sounds like fun... and wears me out at the same time just thinking about it! :) You are giving those children a wonderful gift!
Best wishes.
From Scott 68
Posted on October 5, 2006 at 10:37 PM
im thinking this will be helpful for helping to pay off that new fiddle no doubt

good for you!

From Karin Lin
Posted on October 6, 2006 at 12:57 AM
How wonderful! You rock, Laurie!
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 6, 2006 at 12:56 AM
Scott68, I like your sense of humor.

Laurie, you're right when you say that the input of everyone in the community is important, but that doesn't diminish the magnitude and generosity of your input. If only 10% of the kids who start stick with it for a few years, that would be a great success rate.

I'd help you from my home on the East Coast if I could. ;-)

From Sydney Menees
Posted on October 6, 2006 at 3:35 AM
That's so awesome of you, Laurie! You're one of the saviors of music education. Thanks :-)

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