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Grant awarded for introductory lesson program for GFPS music students

The Great Falls Symphony expands its educational offerings in the 2018-2019 season and school year with a program called Sound Foundations, a group lesson program for beginner and intermediate music students in grades 5-12. Initiated and led by the Great Falls Symphony Association (GFSA), the project is a partnership with the Great Falls Public School District (GFPS) and is funded in part by the the Montana Arts Council, an agency of the State Government, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The GFSA has been a long-standing proponent of music education and outreach in the Great Falls Area. The Great Falls Youth Orchestra was founded by the Association in 1997, adding the intermediate string ensemble “Sinfonia” in 2013. In 2017 the GFSA was awarded a grant from the Robbins de Beaumont Foundation to create the Youth Chamber Music Program in the 2018-2019 season, giving middle and high school musicians the opportunity to experience music-making in trios, quartets, quintets, and other small ensemble settings. With an eye on the very young music-lover, the Symphony also presents youth matinees as part of its regular season, drawing thousands of students from public schools, private schools, and homeschool communities in north central Montana. Some youth matinee attendees travel from as far away as Glacier and Wheatland Counties. The GFSA’s Core Ensembles, the Cascade Quartet and Chinook Winds, also have a strong presence as educators in the region. Each year, the ensembles perform outreach shows for all fifteen of the GFPS elementary schools and annually present Chamber Fun 101, a free and family-friendly performance presentation with an “instrument petting zoo”, where children have the chance to touch and try playing real musical instruments. Beyond Great Falls, the Cascade Quartet and Chinook Winds also present outreach performances and teaching clinics for schools and communities throughout the northwest US.

Despite the wide array of educational programs and events, the GFSA recognizes a need to bridge the gap between the young music enthusiast at GFSA outreach events and the aspiring Great Falls Youth Orchestra member. “There is a long journey between the fifth grade beginning music student and a proficient high school musician”, says Program Coordinator, Emily Wolfram. “It takes years of diligent practice and the careful attention of great educators to guide a young player from “Twinkle” to a Mozart concerto. Individualized instruction is key in achieving this.”

GFPS has a strong music program that serves over 6,000 students with a comprehensive curriculum for general and instrumental music. School music teachers strongly encourage private music instruction to support classroom learning. North Middle School Band Director Russ Kellog notes, “As a middle school band director I do my best to give attention to each and every student. The number of students I see a day prevents me from giving each student the individual attention they need to progress beyond the group norm. Working with a professional in a one on one situation gives the students an individualized plan for success much like a personal trainer with young athletes, allowing them to progress at their own pace and improving their chances for success.” Despite the enthusiasm and encouragement from classroom teachers, there are frequently roadblocks to lessons. Parents may not know how to find a teacher or they might be unsure of the appropriate age for a child to start lessons . The financial cost and weekly time commitment are other common barriers to opportunities like private music lessons.

The GFSA’s Sound Foundations program serves to break down these barriers and make individualized music instruction accessible to as many young music students as possible. Performers from the Great Falls Symphony will teach small groups of students playing oboe, bassoon, horn, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and bass. The small class size and instrument-specific format provides a special learning opportunity that allows children to dive deep into the technical skills and fundamentals of their instrument.

The program consists of six weekly classes for groups of four to seven students and offers two types of classes. Beginner students in grades 5-8 may enroll in the Beginner Group Class for oboe, horn, or bassoon. Faculty include Lauren Blackerby, oboe; Madeleine Folkerts, horn; and Dorian Antipa, bassoon. Intermediate students in grades 6-12 may enroll in the Masterclass program for clarinet, violin, viola, or cello. Masterclasses will be taught by Chris Mothersole, clarinet; Mary Papoulis and Megan Karls, violin; Alyssa Roggow, viola; and Thad Suits and Emily Wolfram, cello. Class sessions take place after school at designated GFPS campuses.

Thanks to the Montana Arts Council’s Artists in Schools and Communities grant program, registration for the entire program is $25.00 per student, with a reduced registration option for free and reduced-lunch families. The Great Falls Symphony Association and the Great Falls Public School system have also invested additiona resources to make the program possible.

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