Learning to play an instrument may teach children how to learn, according to Leslie Perna, associate professor of viola at MU’s School of Music. This is one reason an MU program, the Missouri String Project, may be a good place for Columbia schoolchildren to get their introduction to instruments.
“You’re not going to be studying Plato in the third grade, but music is a structured process that you can learn at any age,” Perna said. “It will help you in every other field.”
Two open houses — one held Sat-urday morning and another planned for Wednesday evening — kick off the 31st year of the program, which Perna has directed since 1996. It introduces third- and fourth-graders to the instruments and student teachers to profes-sional instruction.
If the children sign up for a se-mester’s worth of lessons, which cost $150, parents must provide for them an instrument, two lesson books and a music stand.
About 30 families attended the Saturday event; 25 children later enrolled in the program. Students chose among the violin, viola or cello.
Families moved among three rooms, where student teachers were waiting to instruct curious kids. They taught them how to stroke the strings and helped them through the chorus of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Some of the children were more enthusiastic than others. Ethan Moss, a third-grader at Paxton Keeley Elementary School, played the viola for such a long time that student teacher Adrienne Dickerson asked him if he wanted to give someone else a chance.
“I’ve never gotten to play a string instrument, but I want to learn,” Ethan said moments after he set down the viola. “My family has a Christmas party every year, and everyone plays music.”
Ethan’s father, Stephen, was happy about his son’s enthusiasm. He said that his father was a music professor and that music had always played a major role in his family’s life.
Ken Calhoun, a fifth-grader from Mill Creek Elementary School, used the cello to mimic a slide whistle as he rapidly drew the bow up and down its strings. He said he enjoyed the ease of using the instrument.
“It’s easier than the violin,” Ken said. “You have to hold the violin up, but the ground supports the cello.”
Some kids were put off by the weight or awkwardness of instru-ments. When viola teacher Sarah Patton asked Cameron Grahl, a fourth-grader at Russell Boulevard Elementary School, if the viola was fun, she replied that it was heavy.
Violin teacher Carli Bates had to reassure several children that they would get used to holding a violin on their neck and shoulder.
After the event, Dickerson and Patton said their biggest hurdle was remembering that the kids were beginners. They both agreed, however, that being able to share music with children is a great reward.
“In society today, kids are told that they can’t do very much,” Dickerson said. “I like to show them that they can make something beautiful like music.”