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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.

Violins of Hope Bring Powerful Message to Charlotte Schoolkids

Originally Posted: April 2012

This month Charlotte has the great honor of hosting the North American premiere of an exhibit of the Violins of Hope. Twenty years ago, Israeli master violinmaker Amnon Weinstein began collecting and repairing violins that once belonged to Jewish musicians killed in the Holocaust. His aim was to restore these violins and hear them played again,  restoring the memory of the nameless millions, including the musicians and artists who were lost. Thus was born Violins of Hope.

Eighteen of these instruments are in Charlotte through April 24 on display at the UNC Charlotte Center City Campus. There are numerous events connected to the exhibit taking place throughout Charlotte, including several performances this week featuring CSO players. The project will culminate with the performance, Triumph of Hope: Violins of Hope with the Charlotte Symphony, conducted by CSO music director Christopher Warren-Green and featuring master violinists Shlomo Mintz, Cihat Askin and David Russell.

A special component of the project is a series of in-school performances given by Charlotte Symphony musicians. Two ensembles comprised of professional CSO musicians will perform 14 concerts at local middle and high schools. These programs are made possible in part by a generous donation from Eva and Robert Stark.

Students will learn about Jewish culture and the horrors of the Holocaust through the music of the era. The repertoire features a mix of traditional Jewish and Klezmer music; forbidden music considered "degenerate" by the Nazis; music composed in the concentration camps; and music that evokes survival and healing after the Holocaust. Each concert also includes narration and projected images that explore pre-World War II Jewish culture; the Third Reich's attempt to control art and culture; the role of music and musicians in the concentration camps; and how the European Jewish community refused to be silenced and perservered after the war.

 It is important that students study the Holocaust in school as a way to learn about these unbelievably horrific events from our history and to preserve the memory of those who perished as a result. Seeing a live musical performance such as this is one way to help deepen this understanding. Using this knowledge they can help prevent the repetition of similar events in the future.

With a project such as the Violins of Hope, music helps us learn, and music helps us heal.
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Tagged as Amnon Weinstein, Christopher Warren-Green, Cihat Askin, CMS, Culture, David Russell, Education, History, Holocaust, Preservation, Shlomo Mintz, Violins of Hope, World Class City.