Free violin lessons can prep kids for music and life.
By G.K. Sharman, Orlando Arts Magazine contributor
After-school music lessons might not turn kids into Joshua Bell or Hilary Hahn. But learning to play the violin could very well get them to college — and A Gift for Music considers that just as much of a win.
A Gift for Music is the flagship arts education program of A Gift for Teaching, a nonprofit that provides free school supplies for teachers in Orange and Osceola counties. The mission of A Gift for Music is to ensure that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have access to quality music education.
Since its inception in 1999, more than 9,000 youngsters have learned to play stringed instruments through the program. Playing a violin isn’t an easy skill to learn, says Chad McClellan, A Gift for Music’s program manager. “It’s very challenging,” he notes. “But a lot of our students get inspired by that.”
Obviously so. Since 2012, every student who has stuck with the program from third to 12th grade has graduated from high school and continued on to college. A student’s musical journey may begin with free afterschool violin lessons, which are offered to third- through fifth-graders at five Title 1 elementary schools throughout Orange County. From there, budding musicians can move on to a Saturday Strings Orchestra ensemble, one-on-one lessons and a weeklong summer camp during which skills are further honed.
There are also numerous opportunities for students to perform at concerts and special events. Two key partnerships are crucial to A Gift for Music: the The mission of A Gift for Music is to ensure that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have access to quality music education. Since its inception in 1999, more than 9,000 youngsters have learned to play stringed instruments through the program.
Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) and the UCF College of Arts and Humanities. OPO musicians are hands-on, so to speak, and conduct residencies twice annually with students who participate in A Gift for Music. Youngsters are also invited to attend OPO’s open dress rehearsals. Most instructors are UCF music students. “We have a really nice relationship with the music school,” says Vanessa Kestner, the program’s director. “Their students get real, in-person teaching experience before they even graduate.”
The College of Arts and Humanities is a co-presenting sponsor of Play-a-Thon, the major fundraiser for A Gift for Music. The event debuted in February 2020, just before the pandemic, and lasted six hours. The first four hours were a livestreamed, come-and-go event, while the last two hours were an in-person, ticketed concert with wine and catering. In 2021, the Play-a-Thon went completely virtual — which gave McClellan an unexpected chance to broaden his skill set. “All of a sudden, I became a videographer and video editor for the first time in my life,” he recalls. “Which was a lot of fun.”
This year’s event will incorporate similar visual elements, as well as pop-up performances beforehand to build momentum for the final concert. Play-a-Thon is set for Friday, April 28 at the Dr. Phillips Academic Commons, a building shared by UCF Downtown and Valencia College Downtown. The venue is located at 528 West Livingston Street, Orlando. For more information, visit agiftformusic.com/pat.
Original article published in March/April 2023 edition of Orlando Arts Magazine.