Strings & Friends music ensemble enters its eighth year
WILBRAHAM – The Strings & Friends music ensemble program recently entered its eighth year as a volunteer organized before and after school program, which was developed as way to add more music into the lives of 71 district students.
Elaine Holdsworth, the founder of Strings & Friends, said the program was a direct response to budget cuts that ended the strings program in the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD
) in the 1980s.
“We fought hard to keep [the district-funded strings program] and we lost and I don’t like losing,” she added. “So, I said someday I’m going to get a string program back in [the district] if I can.”
Holdsworth, a 70-year-old retired social services worker at the Behavioral Health Network
who has been playing violin since she was three years old, approached then Superintendent of Schools Paul Gagliarducci in 2006 about bringing back a district strings program.
“If I want to be able to listen to music when I’m too old to play, somebody’s got to be playing it so somebody’s got to learn how to play those instruments,” she said.
Holdsworth said Gagliarducci agreed to the proposal and that she managed the program during its first two years.
During the program’s first year, Holdsworth was able to teach one to two students at a time with a total group of about 14 students. The following year, the program increased to roughly 30 students.
“I’m not a teacher and there’s no way that I could coordinate [the number of students], she explained. “And I don’t know enough about the repertoire [for students in grades 3 through 8].”
During the program’s third year, Denise Gendron, a 1973 Minnechaug Regional High School graduate who is a certified music instructor, became the ensemble’s conductor and music director, Holdsworth, who continues to volunteer as teacher for the group, said.
“Last year we played a very famous piece called Pachelbel’s Canon in D and we had people crying because it was beautiful,” Gendron, who also recently appointed as bandleader at Soule Road Elementary School
, said. “It was a written down version for youth orchestra but it was beautiful.
“And that’s something that happens more and more, either our powerful pieces are making them go ‘wow’ or the beautiful pieces are bringing tears to their eyes,” she continued. “People are just so enthusiastic that strings are in this town.”
Gendron said by 2016 Minnechaug Regional High School (MRHS
) might have a regular orchestra due to middle school students in the program continuing to play stringed instruments such as violin, viola, cello, and bass.
“This year we’re very excited because just enough of our kids made it to the high school,” she said. “Margaret Reidy, [band director at MRHS] is going to have a small orchestra as a class during the day [for half a year].”
Beginner string students focus on learning skills on two strings such as rhythm and note fingerings, working on songs with about eight notes in them, Gendron explained.
As students progress, eventually they preform songs with two pages such as the theme song to “The Pink Panther,” and “Star Wars,” as well as classical pieces by 17th century English composer Henry Purcell.
Gendron said members from the Old Post Road Orchestra
also volunteer to play with students, which can be inspirational for burgeoning musicians.
“I listen to these kids play and I say ‘who are you?'” she added. “I don’t even know how this happening. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts because they start with no knowledge of how to play and they are so experienced and making such beautiful music.”