'String Fling' brings schools together

By Melanie Savage
Mansfield - posted Tue., Feb. 1, 2011
Fifth-graders Annie (front) and Ella play the violin during a country strings rehearsal at Mansfield Middle School. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Fifth-graders Annie (front) and Ella play the violin during a country strings rehearsal at Mansfield Middle School. Photos by Melanie Savage.

MANSFIELD - Since January of 1990, more than 100 young people, from kindergartners to high school seniors, have been performing together in the annual Mansfield “String Fling.” This year’s concert on Jan. 19 marked 20 years for this unusual event.
“The Mansfield Public Schools has a comprehensive program for students of stringed instruments,” according to a concert press release.  “Starting as early as kindergarten, elementary students may receive violin or cello lessons using the famous ‘Suzuki’ approach to music instruction. These young students come to a weekly lesson accompanied by a parent, where the fundamentals of string technique are introduced by a teacher who specializes on that instrument.”
The Suzuki Method was conceived in the mid-20th century by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist who wanted to bring some beauty to the lives of children in his country after the devastation of World War II. Suzuki reasoned that if children have the skill to acquire their native language, then they have the necessary ability to become proficient on a musical instrument. He pioneered the idea that any pre-school age child could begin to play the violin if learning steps were small enough and if the instrument was scaled down to fit their body.  Central to the Suzuki philosophy is the notion of fostering character, as well as musical ability, through a nurturing environment.
Mansfield Middle School and E.O. Smith High School also maintain conventional string programs. In 1990, Suzuki violin teacher Barbara Vaughan and middle school music teacher Michael Carbonneau collaborated with the high school to bring students from all three age levels together. Since then, the “String Fling” has become an annual tradition, where students of all ages can share their progress with each other and the community.
“It’s cool, because all the schools are together,” said Claire Chang, a sixth grade cello player from Mansfield Middle School. “You get to hear how you progress throughout the grades.”
Eric Barrett, an eighth grade violin player, agreed. “It’s fun because you get to play with the little kids, but you get to look up to the older kids too,” he said.
Barrett and Chang have been playing strings since kindergarten and first grade, and both have participated in their fair share of “String Flings.” They said that strings require dedication just like any other instrument. “I practice a lot,” said Chang. “I usually practice until I feel like it’s enough, until I’ve improved.”
“I practice as long as my teacher tells me to,” said Barrett with a grin.
In Mansfield, all that practice leads to a number of different opportunities to perform. There are winter and spring orchestral concerts at the middle school. Those involved in the country strings group have additional opportunities to perform in the fall and the spring.
And the “String Fling” program offers up a diverse repertoire including “America the Beautiful,” a variety of folk songs, and classics by composers such as Bach, Handel, and Dvorak. Which selections are the kids’ favorites? “I like them all,” said Barrett. “The easier ones are fun because everyone gets to play together. The others are fun because they’re more challenging.”
“I like the older pieces,” said Chang. “It brings back memories, I guess.”
“String Fling” participating music staff are:  Suzuki violin director Barbara Vaughan, Suzuki cello director Sondra Boyer, Mansfield Middle School Orchestra Director Michael Carbonneau, E.O.Smith Orchestra Director Scott Chaurette and piano accompanist Annette Shapiro.

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