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Grace students learning strings

Strings have come to Southwest Georgia—an area where the marching band represents the more typical instrumental education received in a school.

Grace Christian Academy introduced strings to their seventh- and eighth-graders this fall in what may be the first strings program in a Southwest Georgia school.

The pastor of worship and fine arts director for Grace, Jeff Eeningenburg said he was surprised by the strong turnout when 18 students (about 75 percent of those enrolled in those two grades) signed up.

“I’ve been impressed with the student response and the excitement they have maintained over the last five weeks since the program began,” he explained.

Eeningenburg said he had been thinking about starting a strings program for the last couple of years. Over the summer he began talking about his ideas with Charlie Strickland, who teaches strings at Bainbridge College, and plays violin for Grace Church services. They decided to give it a try the first semester of this academic year. They, along with Ann Lamm, provide the instruction on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The school purchased the initial instruments and students in the pilot courses have been able to lease them from the school.

The response and interest has been so positive that the school is now expanding the program to interested sixth-graders and high school students.

Eeningenburg, who grew up in Roanoke, Va., studied stringed instruments from elementary school through high school, and is also a self-taught guitarist. He says strings teach a well-rounded course of music. In addition to learning to read notes and to counting, there is fingering to be learned. The student must have a precise ear for pitch, as the position of the fingers on the strings determines the pitch. There is also intense bow work for a strings musician. He claims it challenges both hemispheres of the brain.

Eeningenburg said the school continues to offer lessons on guitar, piano and drums, but the string program will facilitate a greater number of students being involved and experiencing all that can be gained from musical expression.

Most of the 18 students enrolled in the initial class have had to learn to read notes. Only five have studied piano before enrolling in the string class, and while some play guitar, they too have had to learn to read music, since playing the guitar usually consists of reading chord symbols.

A typical class practice recently held began with a great deal of individual instrument tuning—a necessity for any stringed instrument.

The students were learning how to keep the instruments in proper tune and were already demonstrating good action with the bow. They vigorously played a few warm-up exercises together before attempting their first tune, “Lightly Row.” After they mastered the background music, Eeningenburg joined them in playing the melody line. And, it sounded good—especially for students who have been playing for only five weeks.

There are 13 violin students, three playing viola and two on cello in the initial group.

The two boys playing cello, the largest of the instruments taught at Grace, are Grant McDonald and Colby Swicord.

Asked why he chose to play the cello, Swicord replied, “My mom said the cello would be easier for me to play because it is bigger and I have big hands. It’s not easy to carry around, though.”

McDonald said he had looked up information about the cello before deciding on it, and became interested in learning to play it.

Violinist Zyreese Guy said what he likes best about playing the violin is the tone and how it sounds.

Jordan Davis, another violin student, said he also plays guitar and that makes it easier for him to learn violin.

Jasmin Kelly happily calls playing the violin “a challenge.” She claims it helps her with piano, which she has studied for two years.

Another student was overheard to say after a particularly long piece, “Boy that makes my arm tired.”

Additional violin students are Russell King, Alea Simmons, Brandi Register, Veronica Harrell, Seth Leverette, Jackson Harrell, Sarah Grace Carpenter, Rachel Harrell, Melissa Mills and Dylan Harrell. Viola students are Bryce McQuaid, Luke Martin and Michael Evans.

The strings group will make their debut appearance at the school’s “Finer Things” program on Oct. 23.

Carolyn Iamon can be reached by e-mail at carolyn.iamon@thepostsearchlight.com or telephone at (229) 246-2827, Ext. 134.