There is something magical about opening an instrument for the first time and learning to coax sound out of it. It’s almost like adopting a new puppy or kitten. It has a little soul of its own. Any child can feel it.
Only three years ago, ABS acquired a full class set of violins in varying sizes. A few are full sized, but most of them are ¾ or ½ sized, for children. Violin is, surprisingly, appropriate for very young children to learn. It is not uncommon for children as young as three to start violin lessons, progressing throughout childhood. With miniature versions of the instrument, their tiny fingers can manage the bow, press down on the strings, wrap their left wrist around the violin’s neck in that strange swan-like grip, hold it up with their chin, and learn to play.
When ABS received our set of violins, it was through funds bequeathed to us by Alex Ewing; the same generous donor who helped us create our Ewing Blackbox Theater and our light-filled dance studio. We formed a tradition of introducing all 4th graders to the violin during the third term.
Mrs. Boudreault is able to safely teach using these shared instruments in spite of COVID restrictions because students are not rotating through arts classes each week. Instead, they take music for a week, then dance the following week, and art the next. This keeps students more safely clustered and exposes the teachers to fewer individual children each week. (In a typical year, specials teachers see all 320 students twice weekly.) So each student, including remote learners, is assigned their own private instrument for the week. Mrs. Boudreault can sterilize and clean the violins at week’s end and have them ready for the next class on the following Tuesday. For the few students who have played since toddlerhood, there are adapted assignments. One accomplished violinist took home a small cello to try.
The students have been excited to learn how to handle these fragile instruments. Mrs. Boudreault has already heard from parents of one remote student who is asking for a violin for her birthday. Another fourth grader was still bubbling with delight as he entered his parents’ car at dismissal, and exclaimed, “That was so much fun! I love learning to play the violin!”
In class, the focus is absolute. Nobody is talking. Everyone is concentrating on their instrument and the teacher. Everyone is carefully following instructions. There are meticulous procedures for everything from opening the case to positioning the body. Mrs. Boudreault’s laptop sits in the row of students like another member of the class, the camera focused on her. She often addresses the remote musicians, and checks on their position, correcting details. Once they’ve gotten the basics down and are plucking strings, she brings up a recording of Counting Stars by OneRepubic. She calls out patterns and the carefully masked students play along, marveling that their violins fit right in with the song, and that they can so quickly urge them to sing.