Orchestra Program Grows in St. Joseph Schools

Published 02/13 2014 02:30PM

Updated 02/13 2014 10:59PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Kevin Griffin says he wanted to see the music program grow when took over as St. Joseph's Secondary Fine Arts Coordinator in 2003.

And meeting instructor Terry Brock invigorated that notion.

Students can start playing instruments in sixth grade. But three years ago, Brock told Griffin that he wanted to start them earlier.

"I said, 'Well Terry, if you can do that on your own time and outside of your contracted schedule I'm all for it.  It's a lot of work but I'm all for it,'" Griffin said.

And Brock set to doing just that. He dedicates most of his week solely to educating children about strings music - children in their teens all the way down to the second grade level.

"They're all excited about playing the instrument," Brock said.  "They all love playing the instrument and they think it's a special thing."

Brock himself learned the violin by ear.

He was a fiddle player, playing country music and rock 'n' roll. But he eventually discovered how to play classically and got his degree in music education from Missouri Western State University.

And the Suzuki method he teaches elementary students is by ear.

The "Twinklers" as he calls them play variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

"There's not a silent moment," Brock says, describing his class with the youngest students.  "We are going all the time.  I'm instructing them all the time.  They have to follow my instructions and we're doing movements and things like that.  We're playing.  While they're playing certain pieces I'm calling out the next command that they're supposed to play."

Lindbergh Elementary principal Dr. Julie Gaddie says she's amazed by the sounds the youngsters can produce under his tutelage 

"They are in tune with themselves as learners in a way that speaks volumes to instrumental music exposure," Dr. Gaddie said.

And truth be told, playing violins isn't an opportunity most Lindbergh students have. Knowing that, Dr. Gaddie knew she had to pull some strings to get some strings into the hands of her students.

"We found very quickly that the interest in this program outgrew what the district was able to provide," she said.  "We're grateful that the Lindbergh PTA came to us and said, 'We believe in this program, we want kids to have this opportunity.'"

And once the instruments were actually in their hands, the elementary students took to Mr. Brock's lessons.

His process gets right to the basics of playing violin.

"One of the things we really stress starting young students - it's everybody - but we really start on this with the Suzuki method, is posture and finger positions," Brock said.  "[It's about] how they're standing, their feet, positions of their hands or fingers, whether they're supporting the instrument with their jaw and shoulder, which is essential."

The fifth graders at Lindbergh were his first group at that youngest level.

"This is their third year," Brock said.  "I walk into that classroom and they're tearing it up!  They're really going for it. They have good sound and good posture."

Kevin Griffin, himself impressed with how well the young students are taking to this kind of music, says that Terry Brock's passion is one of the reasons the program is growing.

"Terry just has a great love for music and a great love for kids," Griffin said.  "If you have someone with that much energy and that much enthusiasm - Terry could sell ice to Eskimos!  So you have to have that especially to take a program from where it has been six to eight years ago to where it is now."

And where it is now, is a program that will eventually produce extremely skilled young musicians.

Griffin says the sky is the limit. He and Mr. Brock say the ultimate goal is for there to be a strings program at all area high schools. Right now students from Benton and Lafayette are bussed to Central to participate.

Lafayette hasn't had its own strings program in nearly 50 years.

Griffin says it's only a matter of time.

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