The Virginia Tech String Project has made learning musical instruments easy and affordable for local elementary school students.
Starting in 2007 under the leadership of director Vernon Burnsed, the VTSP started with 38 students from Montgomery County and was made possible through grant money from the National Association of Music Merchants.
Now, that number has grown to over 80 students and includes many from all over the New River Valley.
Every semester, students in the program get to showcase their newfound talents in a free concert for the community. This year’s students will perform Thursday, May 3, at 7 p.m. in the Squires Recital Salon.
One of the primary goals of the String Project is to make music education affordable for every student. With the help of the NAMM, the National String Project Consortium, the New River Valley Friends of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, and Tech’s School of Performing Arts & Cinema and School of Music, it has succeeded in doing just that — students pay $50 to take two classes a week for an entire semester, making the cost for each lesson only $2.
When students advance to their second year, the cost rises to $55.
To ensure each student receives the most effective education, the group is divided into three orchestras: first year, second year, and advanced.
Yi-Wen Evans, the master teacher for the String Project, says having experience is not required to participate in the program.
“(Most children) come without any experience,” Evans said. “We have to start with how to hold the instrument,”
Students can choose between the four major string instruments: violin, viola, cello and bass. They must rent or buy their own instruments. However, if a student accidently breaks his or her instrument, the String Project does own several instruments available for loan.
Following the end of the first semester, the children perform several recognizable songs, like "Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star" and the "Can-Can," at a winter concert.
Last December’s shooting, though, resulted in the cancellation of that concert, which was rescheduled for a spring show. Now the students will complement the songs from the winter concert with the more advanced songs they have learned in their second semester.
The orchestra’s set will span several genres such as Americana and folk music, as well as the classical greats like Bizet and Wagner.
The String Project also has a second goal in addition to enriching the lives of elementary students through music — the training of future strings teachers.
In her position as master teacher for the past three years, Evans has not only been responsible for teaching some classes, but has also been responsible for preparing lesson plans, deciding who will teach each class, and mentoring the student teachers and student assistants.
“I watch (the student teachers) teach large groups, and then I give them feedback or step in to help out with something,” Evans said.
The students that help make up the VTSP faculty include many music majors, but there are also several students that have an alternative major and have simply chosen to continue a lifelong passion for music.
It is a collaborative process that ultimately results in learning for both the pupils and the teachers — a fact that will surely be evident when you watch elementary school-aged children play the work of classical music’s greats.
“I’m really looking forward to the concert," said Divya Suresh, a sophomore classics major. "I like listening to classical music, but it’s more about seeing these nine-year olds play things that I can’t.”