My job at Cramp Elementary is teaching about 40 pre-kindergarten kids to play the violin, happily and in sync with each other. A 4-year-old beginner in the Suzuki method myself, this project has brought back old memories and given me a different perspective on my early music teachers.
Mornings at Cramp, I get to have my own classroom with a closet, mirror, and upright piano. In the closet I keep the carpet squares, violin cases, xylophone, analog clock, rubber bands, scissors, stickers, colored tape, double-sided tape, and glue. Teaching pre-kindergarten requires much crafting.
As a child I remember playing around with a box violin, which had a ruler stuck on top for a fingerboard. This is common practice for young kids who might have a tendency to drop, hit, or jump on the new toy. Cassie, an ArtistYear Fellow and visual artist from Drexel University, generously helped me with the planning and making of box violins and dowel bows x40. It was like an assembly line in my house that included 48 boxes of mac and cheese, paint sticks, spray painting with TJ (a composer and another ArtistYear Fellow), wood saws, and Krazy glue.
This week the kids have just started handling the real violins. Over the past few months, with help from an anonymous donor through DonorsChoose as well as the Menchey violin shop and Philadelphia Orchestra, Cramp Elementary has found resources for 20 of the real thing!
Of course there are challenges, as 3-4 year olds are sensitive creatures. There has been pouting, fake crying, real crying, and even accidental peeing. But they also have been getting better with patience, body coordination, group coordination, singing, and saying nice things like, “I LIKE the violin!” (which will spur on the domino effect of “I like the violin TOO!”) It’s great to see them getting excited about rhythms, songs, and making music. They have an impressive memory and are determined to show that they can do XYZ by themselves. They are also proud when they can perform in class for each other.
We have our first real performance in January at
Cramp’s MLK Day library fundraiser concert, and the classroom teachers are helping to plan for that event. I’m looking forward to seeing what more the kids can do!
Shannon Lee is serving Cramp Elementary during her service year. She is a graduate of Curtis Institute of Music and Columbia University.