Albert Einstein played the violin. So did Thomas Jefferson. Now 8-year-old Madelyn Stine is learning.
The Broadmoor third-grader is part of a 15-member class of gifted students receiving 90 minutes of private instruction each week at Will Rogers Elementary School. The fact that geniuses played the violin is worthy of note, said Southwest Symphony executive director, Geni Cavanaugh. Not only is music soothing, it also stimulates brain pathways that science has proven can lead to an increase in mental ability, particularly in logic subjects such as math.
“There’s no doubt that it develops part of the brain when you’re playing an instrument,” Margaret Whitley, the students’ teacher, agreed. “You’re using both sides of your brain.”
Stine didn’t know about all that as she struggled to hold a bow correctly and draw it across the neck of her child-sized violin during the first class on Wednesday morning. All she knew was that “the violin looks really easy to play, but it’s really hard.” Still, Stine and the rest of her class had the same response when polled about that first lesson.
“I think it’s fun,” Mills third grader Derek Warner said. “I’d like to take it home to show my mom.”
> All in good time, said Yau Sun Wong, the instructor who introduced the basics of resin and responsibility to the students on Wednesday, and then explained they will be able to take the instruments home when they demonstrate a facility with both.
Over the next three months, Wong, a New Mexico Junior College music instructor, will teach class twice a week as he prepares the students for a guest performance at the NMJC Band concert on Dec. 6. By the time the semester is complete, the students will be able to perform classics such as Jingle Bells and Twinkle Little Star, he promised. But more than those simple tunes, benefactors hope the students will have developed an appreciation of music while also picking up the side benefit of increased hand-to-eye coordination and intelligence that studies show come with musical exposure at a young age.
“Music taps into emotion,” Cavanaugh said. “A lot of times it makes you feel good, perks you up. Or, if you want to relax, you’ll listen. Music is an inspiration.”
Southwest Symphony sponsored violin summer camps in the past but instruction was sporadic because no instructor lived in the community. “The problem was finding a local teacher,” Joyce Walker, Southwest Symphony governing committee member, explained. “We had plenty of interest in the past but nobody local to teach classes.”
That changed when Wong, who has experience teaching school children in Florida, accepted a job at NMJC. While there is a difference between instructing college students and third graders, Wong said both share a common ingredient: “Patience is key,” he said.
This semester’s lessons are a pilot program and began with the gifted program because it was a small group, according to Tyson Ledgerwood, elementary fine arts coordinator for Hobbs Municipal Schools. The instruction supplements vocal music instruction that occurs in grades K-6 and will enhance a band program that begins in sixth grade. “This is a great opportunity for our students,” Ledgerwod said.
Above and beyond the weekly instruction, Cavanaugh hopes that students will develop a broad interest in music and be inspired to attend Southwest Symphony performances (admission is free for children). Even better would be having their parents tag along for the musical fun. “This is a passion for us,” Cavanaugh said. “We want to better the quality of life here in Hobbs. That’s our niche. It’s our heart.”
Parents like Madelyn Stine’s mother, Misty, are catching the passion. “I think music is a very important part of education and life and I think (the violin lessons) will help to make her more well rounded,” Stine said. “I think this is a good opportunity and will definitely help her to develop her artistic ability.”
Cavanaugh also hopes for a ripple effect – one which will grow with students as they progress through grade levels. “The ultimate goal is bringing a full blown orchestra program back,” she said. Although nobody can quite remember when or why, the Hobbs High School band did away with stringed instruments more than 30 years ago. Adding strings to an already strong band program would be a dream come true for Southwest Symphony members and the rest of the community, according to Walker.
For now, it’s enough for Madelyn and her classmates to begin squeakily learn the opening notes of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. “I really like the sound of a violin – a lot,” the third-grace novice said after her first lesson.
“These kids are getting the ability to work as a team, to work toward being able to create art,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s an amazing gift that you can give children. We’re going to be able to give them something that will create joy – which is music.”