The kids in Elkhorn Elementary School’s violin ensemble gathered in Alicia Lyles’ music room last week for their final rehearsal of the school year.
They scrambled to pull the violins from a cabinet in the back of the room and get them tuned before Lyles called on them to warm up with some simple scales.
Lyles quizzed the fourth- and fifth-graders as they played each note.
“One finger changes it to an …”
“E!” they answered.
“Two fingers changes it to an …”
“F sharp!” they said as they hit it.
They moved on to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Hot Cross Buns,” and then took things up a notch by playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as Lyles accompanied them on the piano, moving a little faster each time.
Lyles projected the sheet music up on the big screen, but many of them seemed to know the songs by heart at this point.
The group of 19 budding violin players is the only strings program in Franklin County Public Schools, Lyles said after the hour-long session ended and the kids headed home.
Lyles, who majored in violin and voice at college, approached Principal David Scholl in the summer of 2010, asking if she could buy a set of violins for her music classes. The instruments, she reasoned, could teach kids about the elements of music and violin use across cultures.
Scholl agreed, and Lyles went about finding funding for the violins, which cost about $150 each. The school’s general fund, Parent Teacher Organization and Family Resource Center all pitched in to buy 13 instruments in December 2010.
She later landed a grant through the Herbert D. Liebman Memorial Foundation to purchase two more violins. The foundation honors Liebman, a former Franklin County Board of Education member and attorney.
Lyles began teaching the violin to more than 100 fourth- and fifth-graders during regular music classes. Scholl asked her to organize a performance for a school board meeting in November, so she picked a select group who showed natural talent or the passion to learn.
“It was so much fun and such a joy that we made it a regular thing,” she said.
“It’s one more resource for the kids to get a real instrument in their hands.”
The program is free and voluntary.
More than half of Elkhorn students are low-income, and Lyles said that means many of them would never have a chance to play an instrument because they can’t afford to rent or buy one.
The ensemble practices twice a month after school, and the kids have played several events at their school this year. They even hit the road a few weeks ago to perform for preschoolers at the Early Learning Village.
Three of the kids have taken such a liking to the instrument that they received violins for Christmas or their birthdays. That enables them to practice at home and keep playing the violin after they leave Elkhorn Elementary for middle school.
Amber Crutchfield, 12, now has her own violin, and says she plays it almost every day. She’s moved up from lullabies to country music, learning songs by the Zac Brown Band to play for her mom.
“It was something to fill the space in,” the fifth-grader said of her decision to join the ensemble.
“When I don’t have anything to do, I play the violin, and it makes me happy.”
The fifth-grader said she hopes to someday earn a college scholarship for violin. She said she takes good care of her instrument and keeps it in a “secret space” where it’s safe.
Fourth-grader Zoey Parker, 10, said she joined the ensemble so she could learn more about instruments and master a new skill. She plays fiddle and guitar with her “pops,” grandfather Lucian Parker.
“It’s fun because you get to feel special because you get picked for the ensemble,” she said. “You get to learn new skills.”
Zoey is proud to say she has a violin solo Thursday in the school’s spring recital, during “Reflection” from Disney movie “Mulan.”
The song will be part of Disney Spectacular, which will feature musical performances by the violin ensemble and other Elkhorn Elementary students.
The event is free and open to the public. Primary grades will perform at 6 p.m. and fourth- and fifth-graders will take the stage at 6:45 p.m.
Violin ensemble members