Sound of Charlotte Blog

Heart Strings

Originally Posted: July 2010
When rising 6th-grader Maria stood proudly in front of an audience of some 25 people last Thursday (July 22) to perform "I'm a Little Teapot" on her bright pink violin, it signaled a triumph a triumph not just for this quiet, thin, intelligent young girl, but for teacher Courtney Hollenbeck and the children of Winterfield Elementary School.

It has been more than three years since Courtney Hollenbeck, a young second grade teacher at Winterfield Elementary, first brought her violin to school to teach her class about sound. Winterfield is a high-poverty school about 90% of the students are economically disadvantaged and most of the 7 and 8-year olds in Ms. Hollenbeck's class had never seen or heard a violin. They were all fascinated, but one little girl showed unusual interest. That little girl was Maria.

After class, Maria, who is shy and undemanding, walked boldly up to her teacher and asked for violin lessons. Courtney Hollenbeck is not a violinist; she played as a teenager, but did not study music seriously. But she recognized in that moment what the violin might do in the lives of her students. So, not only did she agree to teach Maria, but she founded a violin program at Winterfield a program open to all interested students, free of charge. She began to scour Ebay in search of affordable violins, spending her own money to purchase instruments for the growing number of children in her Friday afternoon violin class.

Without even knowing it, Ms. Hollenbeck became part of a movement in the United States an ever-expanding effort to help children become smarter students and better citizens through music. While the concept is not new, it has received a booster shot with the recent appointment of Gustavo Dudamel as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel is a graduate of arguably the most successful youth music program in the world, Venezuela's "El Sistema." Since he began receiving widespread media attention two years ago, programs all over the country have taken root, serving children from Baltimore to Los Angeles to Juno, Alaska. Learn more at http://elsistemausa.org/.

This past December, Courtney Hollenbeck called the Charlotte Symphony looking for help. Her program now served 25 children, grades 2 through 5, and with so many kids at so many different levels, it had exceeded her ability to teach them. The Symphony's Education Programs Manager, Chris Stonnell, and I met with Ms. Hollenbeck and began to brainstorm ways to support the program.

A three-week summer violin camp was one of the fruits of our efforts. Children in the Winterfield program were invited to attend the camp, where they received general music instruction, instrument demonstrations, and violin lessons with Sa-Idah Harley, a local violinist and violin teacher. The camp culminated in the performance last Thursday, July 22, in which Maria, her 8-year-old sister Julia, and their friend Leslie played for their families, Winterfield staff, and other campers.

The Charlotte Symphony has applied for grants from the N.C. Arts Council and the Foundation for the Carolinas to help strengthen and improve the program at Winterfield this academic year. Everywhere you look, funding for arts education is tight if not downright obliterated. Arts organizations all over Charlotte, all over North Carolina, all over the United States, are struggling to find ways to bring music or drama or dance or painting into the lives of children. School systems, counties, states have cut arts education budgets. Brave and passionate individuals, like Courtney Hollenbeck, and organizations like the Charlotte Symphony are bridging the gap. But we need help.

The CSO is happy to announce that the NC Arts Council has granted the Symphony money in support of the Winterfield Strings Program for 2010-2011.

Meg Freeman Whalen is CSO Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement
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Tagged as CMS, Courtney Hollenbeck, Education, El Sistema, Foundation for the Carolinas, Gustavo Dudamel, Innovation, NC Arts Council, winterfield elementary.

Creating Citizens One Note at a Time

Originally Posted: August 2010

Outside the sun is scorching, in spite of the breeze that blows through the Converse College campus.

Fortunately, though, Twichell Auditorium is air-conditioned, and the young brass players of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra are oblivious to the August heat as they work through a difficult passage of Grieg's Norwegian Dance.

The musicians of the CSYO are attending the orchestra's annual summer camp, sponsored by The Symphony Guild, gearing up for a new season of music-making. Mornings are dedicated to full orchestra rehearsals; after lunch, the students divide into sections, led by members of the Charlotte Symphony.
Last Thursday afternoon in the lobby of Twichell Auditorium, CSO Principal Tubist David Mills was warning the trumpets to make way for the horns: "There's something that comes right after you, so hit that note and get out of the way." Inside the auditorium, CSO Principal Timpanist Leo Soto was teaching a student about the power of pianissimo. With his ear down, his whole body alert to sound, Leo caused a magical shimmer to arise from the drums. The effervescent sound made the hairs on my arm stand up, and demonstrated to his young protégé that you can command as much attention with that hush as with a resounding thunder.

The appointment of Gustavo Dudamel as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic has brought spectacular national attention to Venezuela's youth orchestra system and the philosophy of its founder José Antonio Abreu. Abreu's system is building amazing orchestras, but he aspires to accomplish much more: He maintains that orchestras build community, create good citizens, because the varied members of an orchestra come together for the common good to perform great music.

At youth orchestra camp, the members of the CSYO are experiencing this first-hand, all day, every day. "It's great doing music all day," said flutist Sarah Sullivan, a rising senior at North Meck High School, earlier that afternoon. "You'd think you'd get tired of it, but it's really fun. It's really a relaxed atmosphere everyone is open and willing to get to know each other."

And the students are doing more than music all day. They're getting music lessons, but they're also getting lessons in life. Like David Mills's comment to the trumpets: Be respectful of others' space and time. Or Leo Soto's demonstration: Listen, focus, be precise, and remember that you do not need to yell to be heard.

"In sectionals and in the full orchestra, you realize that you have to listen," oboist Michael Smith, a rising senior at Providence High School, told me during a break from sectionals. "It's a great mantra for a community, because if you're not listening to other people in a community, how can ideas be shared?"

"They say music is the universal language," Elizabeth Honeyman agreed. Elizabeth is a junior at Peabody a CSYO alum who has come back to lead the oboes. "But you have to learn how to work with others; you have to learn when to lead and when to follow. You connect to everyone else. What you do on your own is not nearly so important as what you do when you link into everyone else."

Not bad.

And when these students "link into everyone else," they look for unity among the differences, another CSYO alum, Loren Taylor, added.

"It's like a family; if there is any conflict, it's like sibling rivalry. Coming together like a family is what makes people in the youth orchestra better citizens contribute to society. We're building something together. Even if you're in a lower chair, your part is still contributing to the whole."

Meg Whalen is the Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement.
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Tagged as CSO Musicians, CSYO, Education, El Sistema, grieg, Gustavo Dudamel, High School, Jose Antonio Abreu, Life Lessons, Symphony Guild.

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