Grins, giggles and excited chatter greeted Sarah Kim, the Nelson Strings teacher on the first day of lessons. Ten eyes looked eagerly at six cases sitting on a table. Minutes later Nelson Elementary School’s first violin students were learning proper standing position, the name and function of parts of the violin and how to care for and hold their instruments. Five students are learning finger positions, pizzicato (also known as plucking the strings) and their first song. Having a strings program for elementary school children is not too unusual these days. But Nelson’s program has a couple of unique twists.
First, with a nod to Nelson’s heritage of traditional music for contra dances, students are learning some of these traditional tunes. They are working with the O’Connor Violin method, an approach to teaching young people that is based on American folk fiddle tunes. This was developed by Mark O’Connor, a child prodigy who had recorded his first album of fiddle music at the age of 10. Forty years later he is known throughout folk, bluegrass, jazz and classical realms for his brilliant playing and compositions that cross all of those genres.
Second, how many towns the size of Nelson have a world-class chamber orchestra? Enter Sarah Kim, who has been a violinist with the Apple Hill Chamber players since 2008, and on the summer faculty since 2003. Since moving to town she has enjoyed going to the local dances, and the opportunity to hear different music from what Apple Hill typically performs. She was familiar with the O’Connor method, and in fact, had toured with Mark O’Connor in 2001 as a member of the orchestra that accompanied him for a performance of his “American Four Seasons”.
The idea of a strings program has been germinating for several months. With financial support from the community, several quarter-size instruments were purchased. A grant from the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS) allowed for the purchase of the Mark O’Connor curriculum, The New England Fiddler’s Repertoire (by Randy Miller & Jack Perron) and other music. The program is a joint venture of the Nelson School and Apple Hill.
As the students grow (in size as well as musical prowess) the program will need to acquire half- and three-quarter- size instruments. Nelson residents (or anyone else) who would like to support this program should contact Val Van Meier at 847-3371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, be listening for Nelson’s young violinists to be included in upcoming school programs and who knows – eventually some of them may be heard playing for dances in the Town Hall.