Strings Attached students tell story with music

Ellie Wooldridge, left, and Bella Valdez focus on following the music they are playing during the May 18 Strings attached concert. The girls were among the 62 violin and cello players who took part in the concert that wraps up this instrumental music lessons program for this school year. Photo by Tom Munds
Violin teacher Ben Thompkins wears a costume to enhance is narriative of the Norwegian fairy tale “Peer Gynt” that was the theme for the Strings Attached May 19 concert. The violin and cello students played the music that blended with the story’s narriative. Photo by Tom Munds
Strings Attached students perform a number under the leadership and direction of teacher Ben Thompkins during the May 19 concert. Sixty-two members of the voluntary, after-school program teaching the violin and cello took part in the concert. Photo by Tom Munds
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Strings Attached students wrapped up the school year with a May 19 concert as they blended their music with their teacher Ben Thompkins’ narration of the Norwegian fairy tale, “Peer Gynt.”

Thompson and many of the students donned costumes to set the tone for the verbal and instrumental telling of the fairy tale.

The teacher wore a beard, wig and long, black robe, and there were students dressed as fairies, princesses and other storybook characters.

Sixty-two violin and cello students, most of whom had been in the program for a year or two, filled the chairs on the auditorium stage at Englewood Middle School.

Cameras flashed and there was frequent applause during the concert that lasted about an hour.

“I came to see my sister’s stepson play the violin because, initially, I couldn’t believe a boy as active as he is would take up the violin when he decided to do something different,” Sylvia Masterson said when the concert was concluded. “He did great tonight and I am very proud of him and of all the kids up there on the stage. I wasn’t as successful as they are when I tried to learn to play a musical instrument. He tells me he likes the classes, enjoys the music and plans to stick with it.”

Strings Attached students volunteer to enroll in the after-school program. They attend a once-a-week, 45-minute group lesson and are expected to practice at least 10 minutes a day between classes. Some students only take lessons for a year, but many have been taking the lessons for several years. Thompkins and cello teacher David Short enlisted 16 of the more experienced students as members of the first Strings Attached orchestra.

Rylee King, 9, is a first-year cello student.

“I like the violin but I like the cello better. Without the cello, the orchestra can’t create as rich a blend of music,” the girl said after the concert. “It was sort of hard at first. The hardest thing for me was to learn to hold the bow correctly. But playing the cello is so much fun and you can bet I want to stick with it.”

Members of Englewood Arts, an all-volunteer program focused on promoting arts education and performances, spearheaded creation of Strings Attached in 2002 to bring instrumental music instruction for elementary school students back o Englewood.

Organizers partnered with Kid Quest, the district’s after-school program, to offer the after-school violin lessons in two elementary schools. Forty-one students signed up for the initial violin sessions. The program’s popularity grew and eventually lessons are now offered in the district’s four elementary schools. Since it was started, the program expanded to offer the young musicians the option of learning to play the cello.

Thompkins said this has been a great year for the program, with 125 students enrolled in the lessons. He said to keep students interested in their music, he has enlisted a number of the middle school students to be members of the first Strings Attached orchestra.

Strings Attached is a program of Englewood Arts and it is funded through donations from individuals, companies, school parent organizations and the Englewood Education Foundation.