Mandatory elementary-school violin classes are a hit

Mandatory violin classes at an Indiana elementary school teach dedication and self-confidence by partnering  young students with mentors and teachers from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

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    Mandatory violin classes at an Indiana elementary school teach dedication and self-confidence by partnering young students with mentors and teachers from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. From left, participants Chris Baugh, Chloe Shook, Danny Nunez and Bimini Showers perform during a violin concert at Fairview Elementary School, April 23, 2012 in Bloomington.
    Jeremy Hogan/Bloomington Herald-Times/AP
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Ask Ryan Campbell about his experience playing violin for Fairview Elementary School's String Project, and he'll rattle off his favorite song, how it took him a while to catch on and that he gets nervous before playing for an audience.

But ask Ryan what it takes to be good at playing the violin and the third-grader stops for a while to reflect on his answer.

"You have to believe in yourself," he said.

Ryan is one of more than a dozen third- and fourth-graders who have decided to continue being a part of Fairview's string program and who recently performed in a recital at the school.

The class, which is mandatory for first- and second-graders, began four years ago through a collaboration with the IU Jacobs School of Music, particularly Brenda Brenner, associate professor at IU and director of the program.

This year, 15 third- and fourth-graders chose to continue the program, dedicating one night a week to group lessons and taking private lessons during school.

Kathy Heise, music teacher at Fairview, said as the students continue to learn, their confidence and investment in playing the violin continues to grow.

"The way they stand up now and play, you know they believe in the way that they are playing and that they do a good job," she said. "I have some kids come and ask me, 'Could you come just listen to us?' Their faces beam when they take the violin off their shoulder, because they know they did a good job and they are proud."

Twice a year, the group performs for an audience made up mostly of Fairview staff, Jacobs faculty and parents such as Melissa Harris, whose daughter, Chloe Shook, plays.

Prior to her daughter's recital, Harris praised the program and remarked on how surprised she is to see how far Chloe has come since starting out in the first grade.

"They are amazing," Harris said. "I think you'd be pretty surprised at a fourth-grade level what they can do."

For fourth-grader Ashlyn Mounce, each year she learns a little bit more about the instrument she started playing three years ago.

"You learn it and you carry it on as you go," she said.

Although Ashlyn said there are lots of things to remember when playing — don't touch the other strings, learn the different notes and sounds — being able to perform with her friends is a lot of fun.

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When asked why she continues to play the violin, Ashlyn, standing in a green flowing dress, doesn't hesitate:

"I keep doing it because I'm not the kind of person who quits on stuff."

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