Strings in Schools – Violin, Flute and Kindermusik in the North State

Violins come in eight sizes, the smallest size merely 14.5 inches in length from scroll to end button. This adorable instrument fits snugly into the arm span of very young musicians, those around the age of four or five. But who would put such a complex instrument in the hands of such a young child? We turn to Strings in Schools, a Suzuki music program in Paradise and Oroville, CA, for the answer.

Established in Paradise in 2003, Strings in Schools offers violin and flute lessons to children age 4 through 17. This year, four Suzuki-trained instructors are teaching more than 60 kids in classes of five to ten students that meet twice a week. Carla Shryock became Strings in Schools’ program director in 2010, just one year after enrolling her 11-year-old son in the program. Carla and her family moved to Paradise from Modesto, CA, where Carla had spent 12 years teaching violin using the Suzuki method. Suzuki pedagogy engages children with learning by ear before they learn to read music. This means that children as young as five years old can begin learning the violin and flute, hence the tiny instruments.

Strings in Schools also offers Kindermusik, a preschool music program available even to infants. “Kindermusik is great for new moms,” Carla says. “It gives them the opportunity to meet other moms and compare notes, all while giving their young children a really solid music foundation that babies love.” By age seven, kids “graduate” from all four Kindermusik levels with experience reading and writing basic music, singing and matching pitch and playing a basic keyboard instrument (glockenspiel), woodwind instrument (recorder) and string instrument (two-string dulcimer). This variety gives families an idea of their child’s musical interests and strengths while providing a well-rounded foundation.

Parents of violin and flute students commit to receiving training on being “at-home teachers”. They also commit to regularly attending their child’s lessons. “It’s just as much a commitment for the parent as for the child,” Carla says, “but it really is essential. You can’t expect five-year-olds to remember everything they learn. I’ve tried building afterschool-care style lessons and it doesn’t work. Kids are excited at first, but then they just drop out. They need a parent cheering them on.”

Strings in Schools has intentionally priced lessons within the grasp of most families in the area. A complete year (60 classes over a 30-week period) is $360, which breaks down to $6 per class. Families can also rent instruments for $70 for the year. However, as Carla says, “We don’t turn anybody away. We’re always looking for sponsors to provide scholarships so families who cannot afford the lessons can still attend.” Sierra Avenue Elementary School has become a wonderful sponsor since Strings in Schools expanded to Oroville two years ago. Principal Ed Gregorio has generously designated funding for up to ten scholarships for his students each year. “He really believes in this program,” Carla says. “He understands that music education truly helps develop kids’ brains and give them more options in life.”

With a veritable fleet of violinists, Strings in Schools holds two formal performances featuring their beginning and intermediate orchestras each year, mainly attended by families and friends. In smaller groups, kids also perform at community events, in front of grocery stores, in hospitals and at assisted living centers. “Most kids absolutely love performing,” Carla says with a laugh. “They can hardly wait for a performance – for that chance to be recognized.” All musicians, it seems, love to share their art, even with a 14.5 inch violin.
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Jenna Christophersen
About Jenna Christophersen

Jenna Christophersen is a Chico native who loves her community and can never get quite enough of the arts. She supports fostering creativity in any venue, especially as a part of young people’s daily lives.

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