Talib Morris, age 10, demonstrates the correct way to hold a viola, his bow poised over the strings. “Want me to play something?” he asks, his eyes lighting up.
Morris immediately launches into an unfamiliar tune. “It’s something I made up,” he grins. Morris has been playing the viola for only four months and appears to be hooked. A fifth-grade student at Jay Cooke Elementary School in North Philadelphia, he says that he wanted to learn to play a string instrument after watching an orchestra performance on PBS.
Morris now comes to Temple’s Presser Hall on Main Campus every Wednesday and Saturday for music lessons in both large- and small-group settings.
“I let him try it out, and it’s been working for him,” says Morris’ mother, Alysa Redmond. She adds with a wry smile, “I have to make him stop practicing. People have to sleep.”
Morris is one of 35 students enrolled in the Philadelphia String Project, a new program in the Boyer College of Music and Dance that launched in October 2010. The String Project is part of the Community Music Scholars Program (CMSP), a comprehensive curriculum of jazz and classical music instruction for school-age children in Philadelphia who have limited access to such classes.
Through CMSP, students in third through 12th grades from across both the School District of Philadelphia and the parochial school system receive weekly instruction in orchestral and band instruments. They are taught by undergraduate and graduate students, and Boyer faculty and alumni, several of whom are school district music teachers.
Since school funding for the arts has decreased in recent years, CMSP offers classes some students cannot find elsewhere. “This program is able to pick up the pieces and supplement what the school district is doing,” CMSP Coordinator Melissa Douglas explains. “For those kids who show a little more ability and interest, we can give them one-on-one attention.”
Lessons are conducted in large groups, small groups and one-on-one sessions. Three levels of music theory classes also are offered. The children enrolled in the program are at all stages of their musical education. Some, such as Morris, are just
Jordan Salguero, a sophomore at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts in South Philadelphia, has participated in CMSP since eighth
Salguero played violin for seven years and switched to the cello in September at a teacher’s suggestion. “I love the deep sound the cello makes,” she says. “I love that I can put my emotions into it.” Salguero plans to attend Temple after
CMSP also leads its students to careers. Danielle Garrett, MUS ’08, attended CMSP and subsequently earned a master’s degree in string pedagogy from the Boyer College of Music and Dance. Today, she is a music teacher at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia.
“My goal is to pass along the strong passion for music that was instilled in me,” she says.
Michael Fuller, a former CMSP student, now attends the prestigious Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York, where he won a full scholarship. “CMSP was a place where making music became part of my natural being,” he says. “It was a very nurturing environment.”
Sharing the Benefits
Similar to the comprehensive nature of its lessons, funding for CMSP comes from multiple sources. Temple provides support for both CMSP and the String Project. Additional funding comes from foundations, individual gifts and fundraising
“We’re able to leverage all the benefits of the university for the community,” says Mark Huxsoll, director of Boyer’s Music Preparatory division, in which CMSP is housed. And, he adds, “When you have all the pieces in place, you can deliver something no one else can.”
Thirteen Boyer College of Music and Dance graduate students tutor CMSP students; seven undergraduates work with children enrolled in the String Project. The project not only benefits those enrolled in the program; it also gives Temple
Zeke Francis, a sophomore viola performance major, tutors a group of three to four String Project students each week, including Morris. In fact, it was Francis who encouraged Morris to try the viola, one of the less popular string instruments.
He has learned that teaching budding musicians has a lot of benefits. “Teaching makes you a better player,” he says, “and allows you to take someone on a musical journey.”
The Sounds of Saturday
“Good bow hold,” she tells another.
Snatches of music drift through the hallways as the Community Music Jazz Orchestra prepares for a performance.
In one of the bigger practice rooms, a group of seriouslooking younger students stands in a loose formation, playing their string instruments under the interns’ watchful eyes.
Lead teacher Tracy Parente, MUS ’86, a string instrument instructor for the School District of Philadelphia, says she is continually amazed that the children choose to give up their Saturdays for music lessons.
“Talk about a win-win,” she says. “These kids get to teach,” Parente says as she gestures toward the interns, “and these kids get to learn,” she says, pointing to the students. “It’s magical.”
For the Temple students who are teaching, “there’s no manual,” she says. Interns come to the lessons with a love of music, a lot of patience and a knack for making minor repairs on children’s instruments with Crazy Glue and duct tape.
Developing relationships with their students and watching them blossom are some of the interns’ best rewards.
“I just love seeing them open up and grow,” says Sarah Carlisle, who is earning a master’s degree in performance. She plays the double bass and gives private lessons to five students. In addition, she teaches music theory.
Carlisle says she can see her students’ self-esteem grow as they learn to master their instrument. For example, one child was easily discouraged and could not play a bar of music without stopping. At first, she produced only a “timid sound” on her bass.
Now, “she just wails on her instrument,” Carlisle says. “I see it carry over into her personality. She’s empowered.”
Samantha Drake is a writer and editor based in Lansdowne, Pa. Her work has appeared in numerous university publications and in regional publications such as Philadelphia City Paper and