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The gift of music: Island program gives violins to budding musicians
The tiny practice violins, made of wood and paper, sat on display as if they were fragile relics of a bygone era, as the aspiring young musicians stepped up on the stage.
One by one, they said goodbye to the delicate vessels that had carried them so far. It was time to receive the real thing.
Each of the children were given a brand-new violin, shiny and perfect, sized just right for the small and eager arms for which they were bound.
The recent presentation was due to the work of a collective effort music education partnership between the Suquamish Tribal Council, the Island Music Guild and the Kids In Concert program. During a recent concert event, the program directors presented 14 children from the tribe with actual violins after having trained them for several weeks with mock instruments.
“Three years ago my daughter, Michelle, and I started a program called Kids In Concert,” explained island resident and program co-founder Roy Naden.
“We wanted to try and assist those who were not given some of the opportunities that others were,” he said. “That doesn’t apply much to most of the kids on Bainbridge Island, but for those just across the bridge in the Suquamish Tribe, it may.”
Based on the El Sistema music education program originating in Venezuela, Kids In Concert began working with tribal council leaders and educators to select 14 children from 4 to 11, have them transported three times a week to a practice space provided by the Island Music Guild, and teach them how to play the violin.
Why start with the violin?
“The violin is kind of the foundation of the orchestra,” explained Michelle Naden, Kids In Concert director.
“We’re just starting where we start. Next fall we hope to include a bass and four cellos,” she said. “If we had people who were specializing in trumpets or woodwinds, we could start there, too.”
The people specializing in string instruments are the musically inclined volunteers of the program — young adults and more experienced musicians from Bainbridge and Poulsbo — who act as mentors to the students and teach them the basics of their newly acquired instruments.
Having helped to construct and decorate mock violins out of wood and paper, the Kids In Concert students practice proper handling, posture and care of the instrument for seven weeks before being presented with the real thing.
“They have been practicing how to treat and how to hold them,” Ron Naden said to the gathered parents and siblings at the concert. “And tonight they’ll get the real thing. We have some little tiny violins, you wouldn’t believe how little they are.”
The goal of the program is continued education and expansion to eventually include other instruments in this, the very beginning of a youth orchestra.
The violins themselves, each costing approximately $250, are paid for by grants and individual donations acquired by the Kids In Concert program, one of only 40 such programs in the budding movement here in this country, though the formula has been proven quite successful overseas.
“We’ve been operating for three years in a very small way,” said Ron Naden. “Making our way slowly to ingratiate ourselves with the tribe. And the tribe, through their education department, has given us a tremendous amount of support and enthusiasm.”
The enthusiasm comes, not just from the adults involved, but also the children in the program.
“Any time they get a chance to watch the instruments, or hear the instruments, they’re just spellbound,” Michelle Naden said of the students. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Mozart or ‘Do-Re-Mi.’ At this age if they learn, or just become exposed to it, they’ll become very enamored and very connected to music.”
“We hope to be with these kids for years,” Naden said. “And each year they will develop to the next level and the next stage.”
To learn more about Kids In Concert, or to learn of future volunteer opportunities with the program, visit www.kidsinconcert.org.