V.com weekend vote: Did you have an instrumental music program in your elementary school?

February 9, 2018, 10:46 AM · Earlier this week on Violinist.com, member Diana Skinner told the inspiring story of Dr. David John Yeh, a neurosurgeon who also has kept violin-playing as a major part of his life.

Yeh began his musical studies at a school string program at his local public school in Knoxville, Tennessee. In the comments, Skinner adds, "I'm quite certain the string program at the elementary level that Dr. Yeh participated in no longer exists."

This made me curious. I also started violin at my local public elementary school in Aurora, Colorado. Do they still have an instrumental music program at Eastridge Elementary School? I called, and here's what they told me: "Our music teacher does hand-chimes but I don't think that's an every-year thing."

I pressed a little further, "So if someone wanted to start playing the violin or something...?"

"Oh no, not here."

I found this extremely disheartening. It would seem that, at least in the U.S., a child may have had such a chance before the 1980s or so, but afterward that time, music programs became much more scarce, nation-wide.

kids playing violin

Please let us know, did you have an instrumental music program in your elementary school that would have allowed you to start playing the violin or another legitimate instrument (not the recorder or hand chimes)? What are your thoughts on the matter? And also please share your ideas about what we can do to advocate for school instrumental music programs.

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February 9, 2018 at 04:55 PM · Very USA-centric way to pose the question. In most European countries music is not something organized by day school, but you go to a separate "academy" for it, typically on Wednesday afternoons or Saturdays, or evenings of weekdays. On the other hand I believe German schools do have extracurricular activities as part of their own organisation, some of our German v.commies can answer that. It would also be nice to hear about other continents.

February 9, 2018 at 04:57 PM · Yes -- and I was originally supposed to start lessons in this program. I ended up going with a private teacher after school hours instead. My first teacher taught in the public school system in another district and also gave private lessons outside of school. It was a real boon to have her as my first teacher -- her influence lives on, and we have been in touch a few times over the last 10 years or so.

February 9, 2018 at 05:04 PM · my elementary school had an extremely good director and did the suzuki program, so I was able to start in kindergarten. Been playing for 9 years straight ever since.

February 9, 2018 at 06:01 PM · My public elementary school (in Oregon, USA in the mid-1980s) had a string orchestra program for the 4th/5th grades (ages 9 & 10). It was optional, you had to arrange to rent/buy your own instrument, and to arrive early 2-3 times a week for the class).

Today, this program is no longer in existence. A couple of the (public) elementary schools have an arrangement with the local youth symphony organization for very basic instruction in an after-school program.

If I was a current elementary school student it's likely I would've never picked up a violin. Band of course is still very much alive & well, which I find infuriating.

February 9, 2018 at 06:28 PM · Most if not all public elementary schools in northern Virginia have string and band programs, and make an effort to provide an instrument if the family is unable to afford a rental. Without these programs, it would be very difficult for a student from a low-income family to get formal instruction on an instrument.

Students from families with more disposable income, meanwhile, have numerous options for private youth orchestras and private instruction. Some percentage of these students choose to participate only in private youth orchestras and not their school programs so they can take an additional academic subject at school.

Anecdotally, support among local elementary school principals for music programs varies. I heard at one school, all students are strongly encouraged to learn an instrument. At another, the principal kept trying to assign the strings teacher more or less a broom closet for a classroom, and asked whether she couldn't just hold strings classes outside.

February 9, 2018 at 07:13 PM · My public school was in a predominantly Asian-American neighborhood. The parents would have spoken up if the instrumental music program were threatened.

February 9, 2018 at 07:28 PM · Laurie, These will be interesting (and I suspect saddening) survey results. I received confirmation that the string program Dr. Yeh participated in during his elementary years in Knoxville does not exist any longer. I was told, in fact, there are no elementary string programs here in the public schools.

February 9, 2018 at 07:28 PM · I can't make sense of the grammar in the answers. Does "No, in my public school" mean:

* "No, but we did in my public school" (as it seems to).

* "No, not in my public school, but we did in my private school." (as it also seems to read when taken in context with the other choices)

* "No, not in my school which was a public school." (as I suspect is intended, but is so grammatically wrong that it doesn't read that way),


February 9, 2018 at 07:38 PM · This might be of interest: http://mtdresearch.com/a-broad-view-of-school-orchestra-programs/

February 9, 2018 at 08:52 PM · My private elementary school was Catholic, and the only music program we had was singing in church. (I always liked it when they cranked up the pipe organ, but it only rarely happened.) The local public schools did have music programs. We're talking 1960's. Today I do see public elementary school children carrying their instruments to school, here in the SF Bay Area.

February 9, 2018 at 09:00 PM · Neil it means no, not in my public school, etc

February 9, 2018 at 09:08 PM · We had 'band,' but no 'orchestra.' That is, you could play brass, woodwinds, or percussion, but no string options whatsoever. If nothing else, I learned to read music in that small program, and that has been something I have been grateful for my whole life, it made it a lot easier to try musical instruments in general.

February 9, 2018 at 09:33 PM · Being 70 I was in grammar school long before public schools had anything more that attempts to teach how to read music and bang out rhythms.

In Jr. High I got exposed to all the instruments in an orchestra because the local school made music into a five day a week program (the teacher had planned for the previously normal one day a week). All of us had to attempt to play notes on every instrument - success was not required but effort was. I learned that I loved strings (particularly the violin), hated reeds (could not stand the feel), kind of ok with the trumpet mouthpiece but the horn was too small and trombone and tuba way too big, flute was ok,... My family refused to support my desire to learn the violin (another story). Of course the whole arts program suddenly stopped with JFK and the Space-Race. All science and math, little music or art.

Currently, in my town there had been a brief experiment with violins that got killed off with a new director for arts and music. (This is when I picked up students and started teaching because the school would not and some neighbors children who wanted to continue playing the violin.) About the arts and music director: She is a band director. So, now violins are "banned" instruments.

Of course we are in the 21st century version of what I experienced in the early 60's - math and science and no arts and music. Pity that those of us who have been around scientists, engineers, doctors, and the rest of the STEM folks know that a majority of them are also musicians.

February 9, 2018 at 11:43 PM · I started playing in an orchestra in grade school and was fortunate to be able to play all through my school years. Puyallup (WA) still has a very active orchestra program in all of their schools.

February 10, 2018 at 02:46 AM · The link above is indeed very interesting, for those curious about string programs in the U.S. It shows the percentage of middle and high schools with string programs for each U.S. state. I'll repeat the link: http://mtdresearch.com/a-broad-view-of-school-orchestra-programs/

February 10, 2018 at 03:01 AM · I was raised in Germany and there was no music program in elementary school. But when I switched to a different school(called Gymnasium,but had nothing to do with the gym..) in 5th grade I did have music and choir orcherstra(once a week) and the in 9th grade I switched again to a school with music as a main focus. It was great. Each student had also private lesson. (3 students in 45 minute lessons and later 2 in 45 minutes.) And the last 2 year we could pick 2 majors (I think it's similar to first years of college...)(it's different now...)and we had 6 hours music in a week. And I graduated with music there. It was a good and important time for me.

February 10, 2018 at 03:23 AM · I was in 6th grade when the school district that covered Lombard, IL. began a string program for students beginning in 5th grade. I continued through school. I no longer live there and do not know if the program is still running. But I do know that many places that changed over to middle schools either changed programs to start in 4th grade (fewer) or to begin in 6th grade in middle school. Where I live now in Colorado, Saint Vrain Valley School District has a thriving music program. Classroom general music is in all the elementary schools. All the middle schools and high schools have string and band programs (except one smaller school with a very active band program) that some strings have participate in. In January the district held its annual Honor Orchestra concert with both middle school and high school auditioned young musicians. This past Wednesday was the honor band concert with middle and high school students. Like other programs, however, when the district moved to middle school it stopped offering strings in 5th grade and moved the beginning strings and winds to 6th grade, except for one elementary school with a violin club. Many, many years ago when the district was looking to save some money, it considered cutting back or cutting out many arts programs, but the parents and community rallied and convinced the board of education that music and arts where as important as the core programs.

February 10, 2018 at 03:26 AM · p.s. I am more than 70 - when the Lombard school district began the string program it may have been forward thinking - the same violinist/teacher carried many of through many stages of school.

February 10, 2018 at 03:52 AM · I find it rather bizarre that a higher percentage of middle schools have strings programs than high schools across the board according to that site.

Most public high schools in my area (an affluent suburb in North Carolina) have strings programs, but only a few public middle schools and only one public elementary school that I'm aware of.

I started playing in high school, and I'm certain that I would not have been at all interested in learning the violin earlier since I wouldn't have been able to appreciate music theory or the intricacy of classical music. I'm thoroughly of the opinion that an early-age music program is a waste when a high school strings program could be created instead.

February 10, 2018 at 05:24 AM · In my area, some elementary schools in larger cities have orchestral string programs. I don't know about the quality. I personally did not start violin in such a program. In the city I live in (and in surrounding cities), there are band programs in all of the elementary schools (and most of the secondary schools, no middle schools in my specific region, though there are some in surrounding regions) that teach concert wind instruments (no strings), and secondary schools might have group guitar. In some cities (and the one I live in), all seventh, and sometimes sixth or even fifth graders, are required to do band. The quality of instruction varies. I was forced to do band in seventh grade. I was lucky to have a particularly good teacher, but even then, I was not motivated to continue because I had high expectations for myself (couldn't hold notes long without getting tired), and I would need private instruction to achieve that. Depending on the high school band director, orchestral string players may be able to play in the concert band (except viola, due to alto clef). I played violin in my school band for one year in eight grade, but that was only because I had no other suitable choices for electives. My particular school has two bands: a grade 8 band and a grade 9-12 band. The director doesn't allow string players into the grade 8 band, but does allow them into the grade 9-12 band, so I was in the grade 9-12 band in 8th grade. The band director I was with is extremely welcoming of orchestral string players into the grade 9-12 band except violists. It's not a concern because there's literally no violists anyway in my school (and even in my specific city), and even if there is, they're very likely to be active violinists or other instrumentalists currently as well. This means that the chance of coming across a violist who plays no other suitable concert band instrument, including strings, is next to zero. Plus, I'm not the only orchestral string player who has participated in this program.

February 10, 2018 at 06:25 AM · Yes it is not typical for Europe, I am from Prague, Czech republic (middle Europe near Germany and Poland). My music history is quite long. When I was in kindergarten I was playing recorder :) typical in my country. But I wanted to play violin.

I don't know what especially it was but I did not started. It was many factors. I was living with my mom and grandmom and we don't have much money, I was little bit introvertic child so I did not tell my plans more radically and few other factors.

Few years later, on my school (it was very untypical school, experimental with different approaches, first in our country). Really it was not first year at this school my country had communistic regime still so it was absolutely strict normal school, but in 1989, when I was six and at 1st level of school it came velvet revolution and regime fell, our country broke free, we were able to travel abroad etc. So many things changed.

My school changed to alternative, free, modern approached. We had different classes, different styles. And school made for us a rehearsal room, full equipped studio and hired musicians as a teachers. So I started to play guitar, they made a band from us, we played on christmas markets when I was 10, we were playing Pink Floyd The Wall and few czech songs, my first rock concert yeah (a copy of Fender Stratocaster from Squier).

This started my music life, after school I went to music college jazz rock guitar and sound engineering on music academy. I was playing in many bands in my life, a few years I was making my money absolutely from playing, we travelled with 2 bands abroad and played on festivals etc. Cool years, good things to tell :)

When I was 24, I bought electric violin and I wanted to start to learn to play. (Whole my life I adored classical music and violin playing, violin playing girl was absolutelly femmes fatales for me, and yes, my wife is playing violin :-)).

Few more years passed, it was nothing from my try to play on my 5stringed handmade electric violin. And I wanted (in inspiration of my wife) to start a proper studies and playing. I found my teacher, I bought my beautifully made Hammerschmidt violin from 1921 made in my country and I started. It is absolutely great for me, I love it, playing routine things is relax for me.

And now, when I am looking on my daughter at this moment, I am at the age of 34, and she is holding a book "My first classical book" a children book with pictures of animals dancing when you press the button it plays classical pieces, pictures are on theme. Now she is playing Paganini No. 2 in B minor and dances to it (she is 19 months) and I am, as an adult beginner, learning to play Oskar Rieding's Violin concerto Op 34., I feel good :)

Have a nice weekend

February 10, 2018 at 09:56 AM · I am surprised to read these responses and grateful for the opportunitity I had and for opportunities for kids in the area where I now live. I am about 70, and in my hometown, Baltimore MD, the public schools had instrument classes, band, and orchestra in elementary through high school. That is where I first learned to play the violin at age 10 in 1958. I now live in a fairly affluent suburb of Washington DC, and the public schools here have instrument classes, band, and orchestra for kids from elementary through high school. I benefit from the public school violin classes as they are a source of many of my students as a private teacher. There are also many opportunities for kids to get private instruction in instruments in my area.

February 10, 2018 at 11:07 AM · I grew up in a blue-collar suburb of Detroit in the 1970s. We had a "string class" in elementary school, but it was very fragile. Only four or five kids involved, and a kindly old gentleman -- a part-timer named Mr. Lewis -- who tuned our violins with his arthritic hands and helped us through a few simple tunes. I was already playing the violin before that through private lessons, so "string class" was kind of a recess period for me, although my parents expected me to behave myself and help Mr. Lewis, which mostly I did. When Mr. Lewis retired, that was the total end of the string program there.

Fast forward to today, I live in Blacksburg, Virginia. As a college town, you'd think we could easily afford to have a string program in our schools. Not so. A significant fraction of K-12 students in our district (Montgomery County) are eligible for lunch subsidy. Maybe as many as 40%. There is ONE elementary school that has a teeming string class thanks to the energy and generosity of one local woman who plays the violin (she has a music-ed degree). The kids meet once a week for an hour. They play from "charts" that are not music notation but rather note names.

In the Blacksburg schools, the successful K-5 music teachers are percussionists who play their drum sets right in the classroom and teach kids to bang out rock songs on mallet instruments and recorders. My daughter, who was already quite skilled on the cello before her school hired their requisite percussionist-teacher, enjoyed that class very much.

If you want to know where the money for musical instruments is going, it's going to provide every child with a laptop computer such as a Chromebook. (Which students basically do not use, and when they do, they're doing things that would be much more efficiently done using pencil and paper.) Actually if you ask ANY manager, "where did the funds for such-and-such a program go?" the answer will be, "Employee health insurance."

February 10, 2018 at 11:08 AM · In the Shoreline school district outside of Seattle, hundreds of middle school students are involved in a string instrument program. Hooray!

February 10, 2018 at 01:56 PM · The public school funding of early music education in the suburban Washington, DC area in the 1960's was a direct result of the post-WW2 baby boom and build out of government/quasi-gov entities. Many families moved to the burbs following this trend. This culminated in our area having the highest public school spending per capita in the country by 1970.

No money? No problem.

We couldn't afford private piano lessons so I was enrolled in group lessons starting in third grade. We used wooden replica keyboards at first.

I only got a chance to play double bass in junior high because our orchestra had an extra one. My music teacher threw a Simandl book at me and told me to take it home and practice; eventually I got into MCYO without ever taking a lesson (MCYO took pity and gave me lessons). Where else in the US would you have had a double bass "just lying around"?

All this music stuff was great to write on your applications to college, medical school, blah, blah, so you could say, early music education propelled me, like many others, into my version of the American Dream.

February 10, 2018 at 02:39 PM · Hi Toby. Actually our string program had a couple of Kay basses. My brother wanted to play bass, so he took the better one home and fixed it.

Interesting about college and medical school applications. I wonder what "level" you need to be on the violin before your accomplishment matters to a medical school. The Bruch Level, perhaps? :)

February 10, 2018 at 03:04 PM · Paul-

Wow, mine was a Kay, also.

Hey, your idea of having a performance music requirement for medical school might narrow the hordes of applicants, but unfortunately, I was so lousy, it would have included me :)

February 10, 2018 at 05:38 PM · Lots of comments, it will take a while to read through them.

I selected "yes in my public school" though for me the question is a little ambiguous as when I was in school we had: Elementary (k-6), Jr. High (7-9) and High (10-12). So I started in private lessons between 6th & 7th and then did the strings program in my Jr. High. 7th is a Middle School grade now, so I maybe should have put "no". My niece in Barcelona is in an elementary school program, she's 11 now and started a couple years ago on violin.

February 10, 2018 at 06:39 PM · My Catholic elementary school (7-11) in the UK just after the War didn't teach instruments, only choir, perhaps because of the aftermath of the War and money being in short supply. I started having private piano lessons at the age of 5, however, in my secondary state school (public in the US sense) from 11 to 18 there were free string lessons available from visiting peripatetic teachers. The violin take-up was full so that's how I became a cellist! A year later I started having private lessons from my excellent cello teacher, and progressed from there. That school had (and still has) a strong tradition of music, running two orchestras and a choir. In the top orchestra, during my time, every year there were usually at least two players who were selected for the National Youth Orchestra.

February 11, 2018 at 12:39 AM · While the public schools from the elementary school level through high school had string programs and orchestras, many of us would compete for scholarships from community music clubs, which paid for private lessons. Unfortunately, that means that some of us accelerated ahead of other public school students who didn't have private lessons. Our teachers, however, were very creative about keeping us engaged. For example, the middle school orchestra teacher handed me a string bass when i was getting frustrated with the pace of the school orchestra. The high school teacher handed me a viola, unless he needed more cellists. It was all good, in that I now play all clefs natively ~ rather than attempting to transpose.

February 11, 2018 at 04:55 AM · Terry Carscadden Sault Ste Marie Ontario Canada

The Sault Board of Education hired Music supervisor from Toronto Ontario when I was in grade 6 in 1944! He was also the music supervisor in the one High School we had. So I had the opportunity to study the violin and the trumpet. There was an elementary and a High school band and orchestra in all the elementary schools and the High school. I played in both. I well remember the Sunday he came to our house with a trumpet and stayed until I could make a sound! My parents bought me violin from Eaton’s for $30.00.

They bought me a beautiful Whaley Royce trumpet from people up the street for $45.00. I took private lessons In both instruments. In grade 8 we bought a Strad copy violin from people down the street made on Germany about 1920. I still play it and I have a better one made in 1840. I play in an ensemble with 12 of us. That’s my story!

February 11, 2018 at 02:59 PM · We had a music program from kindergarten or first grade onward, in the third grade we picked our instruments. In the fourth grade, we learned how to play them. It was great. I'll never forget the first time I held the violin in my hand, especially after trying to get a sound out of the trumpet, clarinet, flute, etc...

February 11, 2018 at 04:19 PM · In a working class Pittsburgh,PA suberb in the mid 1970's, my elementary school had MANDATORY music instrument classes starting in the 3rd grade. It's how I started viola: by the time they called my name, all the violins were taken, and the cello was too big for me to walk to school with every day.

I have no idea if they still have the program or not.

February 11, 2018 at 05:58 PM · I started in 4th grade in my public elementary school string program in Williamsville NY in the mid 1970's. I'm pretty sure that program still exists. It was highly regarded and at the high school level, produced a number of pro musicians. I am quite sure I would not be playing today if it weren't for that school program.

My children also started in 3rd grade with a good program in Belmont Massachusetts, which is still thriving. The program in our school district now, Mountain View CA, is quite good as well. However, it is different here in CA vs MA in that here they don't seem to start until middle school (6th grade) which means my son, who started in 3rd grade, was a few years ahead of the average player in the school groups when we arrived.

In general the difference between kids who start privately, on their own, and the kids who start in the school program is much more pronounced here than it was in MA when everyone started earlier. I think it makes it a little discouraging for the kids who only start in school because there is the perception that they start out "behind." If possible, I think 3rd grade is a really good time to start, although if it has to be 6th better late than never!

February 12, 2018 at 11:32 AM · My vote was cast on the assumption that by "Public School" you meant what in the UK is called "State School" (our State being the UK). Here a Public School is what in the US you would call a particular type of private secondary school (The history is that the earliest schools were only open to the sons of clergy. Schools were then set up that were open to the general public - of course, those who could either pay or get scholarships - and these are today's UK Public Schools.

My father was employed by a neighbouring borough to start and run a scheme for all children, that were suited, to learn a stringed instrument, which they would have on loan from the borough (In my own borough classes were free, but children had to provide their own instruments). After I'd had violin tuition for some years (guess with whom!), the two boroughs were amalgamated with a third (The boroughs were Tottenham, Wood Green, and Hornsey. Various names had been suggested for the new borough, including Hornham Green and, my father's suggestion, Greenhornham, but the name chosen was Haringey, which had been a medieval manor incorporating land from all three boroughs), and the scheme was extended to all three. My father retired in 1973 and the Scheme continued for a few years more before funding was withdrawn and it had to terminate. I'm told that it has recently been reintroduced, but funding limits it to a year or two before students have to purchase their own instrument.

February 12, 2018 at 11:55 AM · I owe an incredible debt to my public elementary school in Dallas, Texas. I started the violin there when I was eight. We had one period each day devoted to strings, and we could get our instruments from the school.

For the previous 7 years of my life, I had shown no musical interest. My mother, who was a very gifted singer of Yiddish songs, didn't think on her own to give me lessons. One of the great advantages of having a public school string program is that most parents are too busy to do what's necessary to start music instruction and keep it going. My school opened what would never have opened otherwise.

What started in 4th grade lasted until I graduated from high school. Unbelievably, it included free private lessons from the grades 7-12. There was a top-notch all city symphony sponsored by the school district as well, called the Dal -Hi Symphony. John Cerminaro, later the Principal French Horn of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was in Dal-Hi.

Those people who made public school music programs possible had the vision that music was just as important as math, science and sports. Marjorie Keller was the artistic administrator of the district program. Her dream for us was that we would learn to play, read music, follow a conductor and learn to play with others. It turned out to be the most meaningful part of my school life.

February 12, 2018 at 10:14 PM · I should note that I only had the free music program at my public school for 5 out of 6 years, as it was impacted by budget cuts. It was a great way to get started in kindergarten. I owe a great debt to Dr. Lamb the excellent music teacher.

February 13, 2018 at 04:15 PM · Hi it would have been nice to include a year indication for if you had instrument training as a child. I am 71. it was common in the 50s to have music instrument training. today in Chicago many public schools have instruments in the basement in storage idled for lack of Public Funding. Further it is my belief that nonprofits coming in after school provide a new delivery system that better fits in two days budget constrained world.

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