Since the fall of 2003, Pipestone faculty member Pam Hunt has been teaching a strings program in the Methow Valley schools. The parent of one of her private violin students asked if she would write a grant to the Public School Funding Alliance to start such a program, and the grant was accepted. The Public School Funding Alliance has been funding it ever since. Students in the third grade are recruited the first week of school by a visit from Pam to their classrooms. All students are encouraged to try the violin. Usually about half of the grade actually registers. Then the work begins. Beginners meet three times a week with Pam, and learn to play the violin using the Suzuki Method, which focuses on learning by ear, by repetition, and by working in a group. The class runs throughout the school year.
Fourth graders who have taken the beginning class are encouraged to continue in a string ensemble setting. They have the choice to switch from violin to viola or cello, and the focus of this class is learning to read music. “Although every student who completes the first year is proud of their accomplishments, usually only half of the 3rd graders decide to continue the second year. It’s a lot of work at home, and takes persistence and determination to play an instrument well,” says Hunt. Mark Johnson, music teacher at the elementary school has commented that the students who take Hunt’s strings classes are much more prepared for band class than those who have not. Band begins in the fifth grade, so students who have been studying an instrument for two years are a good example to the others.
The school board, administration and faculty have all been very supportive of the strings program, and year after year find a room where the classes can take place during recess time. “There is an understanding in our school district of the importance of the arts as a core curriculum,” says Hunt. “And with the help of Methow Arts programs bringing artists and actors into the school, kids get to experience the enrichment of art and drama. Pipestone’s strings program dovetails nicely with these programs.” Much research has been done on the benefits of music to the developing brain of young children. Music incorporates so many disciplines, for example math in rhythm and counting, science in the production of sound, history in discussing composers, language in music the music terms. Students learn character traits like tolerance, commitment, time management, self-awareness, patience and focus. “With the Suzuki Method, we are trying to cultivate good people with noble hearts. The violin is just the tool. I am so grateful that the Methow Valley School see the benefit of this program and continue to collaborate with us,” concludes Hunt. “I can’t wait to meet my new third graders in September!”