A crescendo of violins and cellos in the schools

As schools work to strengthen their arts programs, stringed instruments are finding their way into the hands of more and more students.

Two-thirds of schools with string and orchestra programs surveyed by the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) said the number of students learning stringed instruments – violin, viola, cello, double bass – is on the rise. The group also noted a marked increase in the number of minority students learning such instruments and playing them in orchestras.

At the same time, there appears to be greater difficulty in finding enough teachers to work with the growing number of students. The Fairfax, Va.-based ASTA also reported that 43 percent of available stringed-instrument teaching positions were not filled in the 2000-01 school year. The shortage is expected to become even more critical between 2002 and 2005, when an estimated 22 percent of string teachers will retire.

To remedy this, the National String Project Consortium is working with 26 colleges and universities to help college string majors gain experience – and pay – teaching in their local schools. The effort is modeled after a 27-year-old project at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

"Traditionally the best [string majors] are lured into the performance track while teaching jobs go begging," says Robert Jesselson, a music professor at the university.

Despite the shortage of teachers, there's evidence that stringed instruments are becoming increasingly attractive to students, says Jane Palmquist, associate professor of music at Brooklyn College, one of the schools participating in the project.

There's been more recognition in recent years that all students can learn stringed instruments, says Professor Palmquist. And more young players are being celebrated and serving as role models. "People are also more aware of the inherent beauty of the instruments," she says.

About 18 percent of American public schools have string programs, mostly beginning in the fourth or fifth grade.

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