Strings in Our Schools: The Gift of Music For Our Children, Part 3 of 3
Could anything be more rewarding to a teacher than hearing that your music lessons propelled a student to excel in all her academics, or that you played a part in the choice of a musical career, or that your coaching inspired a second generation of young musicians?
“Beloved violinist and teacher Hilary Schacht reaps scores of such rewards for her work in the popular Strings in Our Schools (SIOS) program,” says Deborah Leah Ungar, Director of Education and Outreach for the Festival.
Strings in Our Schools, the third branch of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s educational offerings, provides weekly one-hour violin lessons to about 60 at-risk students who do not have such musical opportunities at their schools. Participating students at Ramirez Thomas, Tesuque, Pecos, and Sweeney elementary schools are given the use of violins for the school year, while also enjoying the rewards and excitement of performing in one or more concerts annually.
Available at no cost to the students, SIOS introduces kids at beginner and intermediate levels to hands-on music-making—an experience they might not otherwise have. The program lets them share in the joy of music-making, builds their confidence and self-esteem, gives them a sense of responsibility and self-discipline, and aids their overall academic achievements. And best of all, it encourages them to stay in school.
Getting into the Strings in Our Schools program is competitive, and once in, students are evaluated on attendance, behavior, responsibility for and care of the instrument, practice, homework, technique, reading music theory, ear training, parental support, and performance! These kids are certainly held to high standards! But when it all comes together in the concert at the end of the school year, the pay-off is plain to see and hear.
With enthusiastic and encouraging support from teachers, administrators, staff, parents, and the community—all vital components of the program—students make great strides, as Hilary’s recent year-end report about Ramirez Thomas Elementary School, for example, certainly showed. “Students had the opportunity to perform a challenging piece at their specific level to demonstrate different levels of achievement. We illustrated different techniques while playing songs together. For example, the 5th graders played the piece with more complex bowings and even embellishments, while the 4th graders played the more complex bowings without the embellishments, and the 2nd and 3rd graders simply played the melodies. Performers were radiant, played together in tune, and confidently felt they achieved their highest goals.”
Hilary not only teaches all the classes but also coordinates all the details involved in scheduling, recruiting, and arranging concerts with principals and classroom teachers at the various schools.
SIOS was founded in 1995 by another violinist, Robbin Close, and Hilary worked with her for a time. But when Robbin left Santa Fe in 2003, Hilary became the sole violin teacher in the program, and the Festival used that transition to make SIOS a part of its existing educational programming, with continuing support from the Santa Fe Public Schools, Rebekahs and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and individual schools and principals involved with the program.
All of the violins and bows need regular maintenance to keep them in the best condition for the program’s students and we are especially grateful to The Violin Shop of Santa Fe for the beautiful work they provide to SIOS.
“Almost all of my students over the many years are still playing violin, whether in middle or high school, or the Santa Fe Youth Symphony, or even a Mariachi band. Some former students have gone on to be music majors in college, but, at the very least, they are actively participating in the world of music in some way. Most of them keep in touch with me and some even come back to our violin class to play for current students and to share their experiences.”
Hilary tells the story of a very special 2nd grader, Ana, who came from Mexico with her family. “No one in the family spoke English, but she entered the Strings in Our Schools program. She not only worked hard but was also very talented. She was my star performer.” Now in 5th grade she is Hilary’s most advanced student, excels in English reading and writing and math, and serves on the student council.
The proud teacher adds, “Because Ana will surely continue to play for the rest of her life, as a gift to her I fixed up and presented her with the violin I grew up learning on. The differences we have made in each other’s lives are apparent, and I will continue to give her the opportunities she deserves—whatever it takes.”
And that’s what music can do.