The minute 11-year-old Daniel Oropeza heard the melodic tunes of the cello, he knew the instrument was for him.
“I was excited,” he said. “I was actually kind of hyper because I wanted to learn how to play the cello….it’s amusing to play, and the sound is beautiful.”
His 7-year-old sister, Viviana, felt the same way about the violin.
“The first time I heard it, it sounded beautiful and I knew I wanted to try it,” she explained.
Both children were introduced to their string instruments last summer at a String Camp hosted by the LaGrange Symphony Orchestra. Since then, they take private lessons once a week through the String Project. The program promotes string education on all four string instruments: violin, viola, cello, and bass. According to Celeste Myall, String Conductor of the LaGrange Symphony Youth Orchestra (LSYO) and head of the String Project, the students learn musical knowledge and skills that will help them not only in their musical endeavors, but in academic success and future careers as well.
“It’s discipline,” said Myall. “It teaches them [students] to think.”
“It does more than build music ability,” added LaGrange Symphony Orchestra Director Dave Marler. “It helps with self esteem and behavior too.”
The String Project also provides lessons to children ages five to eleven with experienced teachers and instruments at little to no charge. Myall said part of the program’s goal is to make string education accessible and affordable to the youth of Troup County and surrounding areas, including the West Georgia Boys and Girls Club.
“Strings are expensive,” said Myall. “Bands play at other events and serve in other functions. You don’t really have that with strings. “
It’s one of the many reasons Daniel and Viviana’s parents, Hugo and Sandra Oropeza, enrolled their children in the String Project last year.
“We can’t afford private classes,” said Hugo. “We are so grateful to have this opportunity to expose the children to music.”
Hugo and Sandra are pastors at the First Hispanic Church of LaGrange, and heads of the music ministry. They, along with their children, including their 14 year old son, are also founding members of the group “Freedom Sound.” The love of music runs deep within the Oropeza family.
“We’re so excited this program is here,” said Hugo. “It’s important to let kids learn music …. it’s the expression of the soul and it expresses feelings. Music is something they need to learn. As soon as they get the basic knowledge …. they will be able to learn other [instruments], like guitar.”
With the ability to take home a cello, Daniel said he can practice what he learns in his lesson every day.
“They teach me all the notes,” he explained. “Every week she [his teacher] gives me one song to learn. She teaches me finger positions …. and I learned how to hold a bow. I’m looking forward to performing and learning more instruments in general.”
Myall said that’s exactly the outcome they’re hoping for from students in the String Project.
“We want to sustain and grow the youth orchestra by offering lessons to children,” she explained. “We encourage children to play when they’re ready. The idea is when they get to that level, they’ll move into the orchestra.”
According to Myall, the String Project is able to provide lessons thanks in part to monetary donations from the LSO and other partners in the community, plus a variety of grants including $25,000 from the Georgia Council for the Arts. When the West Side Magnet School in LaGrange closed last year, the Troup County School Board donated the string instruments to the program.
Although still in it’s infancy stage, Myall said she’s extremely proud of how well the program has done in it’s first year. She said children as far away as Newnan have taken part in the String Program. Myall and Marler hope more people will get on board when they host their Summer String Camp again at the end of May.
“It’s a chance for children to come in for a week and hopefully fall in love with it,” Myall said. “If we want youth orchestra to continue, we have to grow the players. “
“The key is getting the word out,” explained Marler. “The program is available and it’s not based on skill, experience, or ability to pay.”
The Summer String Camp will be May 27th - 30th at LaGrange College. Loaner instruments will be provided. Myall said at the end of the week, all the students will perform in a camp recital. For more information on the Summer String Camp and the String Project, call the LSO office at 706-882-0662 or email them at email@example.com.