SNOHOMISH — For the first time in more than a generation, violin instruction is being offered in Snohomish public schools, thanks to the efforts of Snohomish First Presbyterian Church.
About 77 students from two middle schools and five elementary schools started violin lessons this week with professional teacher Jessie Scott, a member of the church.
Violin instruction is seen as a first step in building the foundation for an orchestra program in Snohomish, said Ann Lewis, a pastor of the church. Group lessons in viola and cello may follow in a few years, she said.
Parents pay for the group violin lessons, which are scheduled either before or after school. For $7.50, students get 45 minutes of instruction, compared with the going rate of more than $25 for half-hour private, individual lessons. The fee pays Scott’s salary.
Violin lessons are just part of Snohomish First Presbyterian’s Kaleidoscope Academy. The church has five instructors who offer 102 different class times in 19 different musical instruments and voice lessons for children and adults, Lewis said. Church doctrine is not part of the instruction.
“We have a love of the arts,” Lewis said. “We have had a dream to use our resources to offer community classes, which may later include courses such as personal finance, cooking and parenting. We decided to start with music.”
Valley View Middle School Principal Nancy Rhoades served on a community committee to get the group violin lessons lined up. A former public school music teacher, Rhoades said she is thrilled about the violin program. Snohomish schools do have choir and band programs.
“The value of music instruction to our students is tremendous,” Rhoades said. “There’s plenty of research that shows that children benefit academically from the experience of playing a musical instrument. It is a powerful force in the way our brains work. And the arts are important for a well-rounded education and society.”
Rosalie Plante, 7, a second-grader at Little Cedars Elementary School, wore a big grin as she left school following her first violin lesson Wednesday.
“It was really fun and exciting,” Rosalie said. “The teacher is nice and I like my new violin.”
Rosalie’s mother, Nancy Dumouchel, found the small-sized violin on craigs list.org and bought it from a couple in Lake Forest Park. The couple’s daughter is now a successful professional violinist. They told Rosalie they hoped the violin would serve her well.
Emma Fontenot, 7, a second-grader at Dutch Hill Elementary, is the great-granddaughter of a former Seattle Symphony violinist. She started lessons Wednesday, too.
Cassie Fontenot, Emma’s mom, said an inheritance from her grandmother’s estate is paying for Emma’s violin lessons.
“It’s a fitting way to honor my grandma,” Fontenot said. “We are so excited about this program. We had been looking for local, affordable violin lessons for more than a year. We are so grateful to Ann Lewis and her church. It amazing what they are doing for our community.”
On the first day, violin teacher Jessie Scott, 27, had her new students lift their violins onto their shoulders and lean their chins over.
The violin generally is considered one of the most difficult instruments to master. At first, just learning how to hold it properly requires determination and patience. Some students put it on the wrong shoulder or held it on their chests. Scott smiled.
She had the budding fiddle players alternately pluck their D and A strings to a rhythm that fits a chant of “cheese pizza, cheese pizza.”
Later, they will use their bows to begin to play “Twinkle, Twinkle.”
Scott earned her music degree from Whitworth University in Spokane and has been teaching violin since she was in high school. The gig with her church and the schools in Snohomish is a dream come true, Scott said.
At this first lesson, Little Cedars Elementary fourth grade teacher Donna Petruzzi-Benson tuned the student violins. She plans to volunteer to help Scott with lessons at the school. Petruzzi-Benson is a violinist in the Cascade Symphony in Edmonds.
“I have been teaching in the Snohomish School District for 28 years,” she said. “It’s great to be able to be part of bringing strings back into the district. I hope to help foster student interest, so they take it into high school. It’s great that the church has set this up.”
Pastor Lewis thinks it’s great, too.
“We have had such an enthusiastic response, we even have students on waiting lists for violin classes,” Lewis said. “It seems as though this is God’s timing. We are thankful that the church is reflecting God’s love and that we have been able to organize this.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about Snohomish First Presbyterian Church’s music programs is at www.kaleidoscope123.org.