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Patricia Baser

Strings, the Public Option

October 14, 2009 at 3:15 AM

I have taught privately and in the public setting.  I currently have about 120 elementary string students k-5 at an urban magnet school.  95% of my students would simply not have this opportunity if the school did not provide it.  Research shows the benefit of music study to brain development, so while I would love to have a class of little Midoris, I know that my job in the school setting  is not to train virtuosos but to provide the best musical instruction possible while also considering the academic and social development of the students involved.   In a public school, I must take all comers.  It can be surprising who wants to  learn a string instrument.  I certainly see high achievers-one of my students who started in kindergarten is now a third grader and is the youngest member of our local youth orchestra. However, I also see students who are struggling academically or have some pretty difficult situations once they leave the school grounds.  Those are sometimes the students who appreciate this opportunity the most.  There is a Suzuki component to my program that requires parental involvement.  The majority of my students use school instruments, and it is a struggle to have enough working instruments.  They are not always exactly the right size, but we just make it work anyway.  We absolutely work on correct posture and fundamentals, but large classes do limit more personalized attention.  I teach both aural and notereading skills, but some success in this area is also dependent on the student's individual effort.  My students develop very good rhythmic skills in a group setting as well as develop such nonmusical skills such as cooperation and responsibility.  It can't necessarily be compared to the private setting, as that is a different type of learning environment. 

Is teaching in a larger group sometimes frustrating? Certainly.  Pacing is slower.  But it is really no less frustrating than those private students who never seem to crack open their case at home.   

I couldn't afford a private teacher until my junior year of high school, so if it weren't for the training provided by Mr. Piazza, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Lee, I would have never become a violinist!

From Dottie Case
Posted on October 14, 2009 at 3:25 AM

 Bravo...I was finding the other thread a bit distressing.  I ran a school strings program for 3 years in a disadvantaged area, and for some children there, it absolutely changed their lives.  There are a few played who I started as 3rd graders who are becoming very fine young players, and they love it.

I also came out of a public school system, as a clarinetist.  I never had the opportunity for private lesson, and became a very good player just in the program.  I was a little stunned to notice that some musicians could think that no music could ever be a good option.  We all know the impact that participating in music making can have on other learning skills. 



From Tess Z
Posted on October 14, 2009 at 12:49 PM

I agree!  If it were not for school music programs most kids in US would never be given the opportunity to play an instrument,  I feel a group setting is beneficial to the students because they learn to play in tune and rhythm with each other (a group of flutes or a section of strings) and they are learning to play together and read the music for their concert pieces.

Private lessons are great for the students who can afford them because they have the opportunity to ask question's and work on technique issues.  But, there is more pressure to keep up with a group than there is to work through your private lesson material each week. 

I have seen this in my own kids.  They can play their concert and solo pieces to perfection a lot sooner than they can their private lesson pieces and it has everything to do with motivation.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 14, 2009 at 1:50 PM

The string orchestra teacher at my urban magnet school was wonderful, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to play and learn.  Thanks for doing what you do!!!

From Bev Saunders
Posted on October 14, 2009 at 7:08 PM


Thanks for writing a wonderful blog.  I have always believed that public school music teachers have a very difficult task but that the work they do is indispensible.

I can say from personal experience that I wouldn't have been able to play the violin if my school district hadn't offered orchestra classes.  My family couldn't afford lessons for me; we we're barely able to rent the instrument.  But I had dedicated teachers all along the way: Grant Sears, Robert Pendergrast and Ian Edlund just to name a few.  They took an interest in me, answered my numerous questions, stayed late after class to give me a few minutes help when I was struggling with some aspect of the music.  But the greatest gift they gave me was the belief that I could do it - even without the private lessons, expensive instrument, etc.  They personally invested their time in me and I can't express how much that meant to me both then and now. 

From E. Smith
Posted on October 15, 2009 at 2:06 AM

Thanks for sharing this! I wish all public school students had access to music programs (and teacher like you.)

From James Patterson
Posted on October 15, 2009 at 7:34 AM

I'd like to add another voice in praise of public school music, and group lessons, too.  I played the flute through junior and senior hi (6 yrs) and for part of my freshman year in college (before the demands of studying as a non-music major became too time consuming).  All that time I barely had any private instruction: 3 years at the 2 week summer program of the U of Alabama.  But the benefits of that experience has lasted me until my upper 60s. I developed an appreciation for classical music and to this day, am a season subscriber to both symphony and opera here in Dallas. 

After working a few years, I felt the urge to get back into music, and picked up the recorder as a serious instrument. Once again, largely group lessons and self teaching, but 40 years later, I still play 2 -3 times a month and can't imagine my life without music. 

One major function of public school music (IMO) is to help produce the knowledgeable audiences that all performing musicians need to thrive.  We amateurs are the supporters that make the system go!

Today, much of my reading on the internet is blogs related to music (including this one!).


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 15, 2009 at 1:18 PM

 I started violin in a public school music program too, in 4th grade.  While I did start taking private lessons in addition in 6th grade, I never would have had the opportunity to take them, or play the violin at all as a kid, if it hadn't been for the public school string program.  My parents aren't musicians and it just wouldn't have occurred to them that this is something kids could or should do if it hadn't been offered in school.  And I agree about how important it is to make music widely available, especially for the kids who aren't virtuosos.  

From Julie Tebbs
Posted on October 19, 2009 at 2:14 AM

I echo all that has been said - thank you for your encouraging post!  I also started in a 4th grade orchestra program (which was taught by a bassoonist).  There were less than 10 kids in the class, we were just pulled our of our class and taught in the gym for a while.  I echo all those who said I'm sure I would never have tried the violin if it were't for this program.  And my violin is currently one of just a handful of things that really gives me joy.  I have met amazing people through this instrument, learned new skills (above and beyond the "how to play"), etc.  It is a necessary program in our schools.  I don't know if it should be manditory, but certainly it should be available and staffed with competent teachers and well funded (I know dream on).

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