Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Plucky kids get ready for first strings concert

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

COVINGTON - Kaila Potts had just finished quizzing her students at Glenn O. Swing Elementary School on all the parts of the violin - or so she thought.

"You forgot the bridge!" they shouted.

Two weeks ago, the only bridge these 20 fourth- and fifth-grade students knew about was the one people drive over.

Now, they're preparing for a strings concert in December at Northern Kentucky University, where nearly 100 area kids will showcase their new talents.

They're known as the Covington Youth Strings. Most had never touched a musical instrument before, but are now spending two days a week after school learning to play the cello, violin and viola.

"I thought it was interesting and have watched it on TV before," said Robert Rhodes, 11, who's learning to play the violin. "It's hard, but when you do it for a while, it gets easier."

Bill Weathers, director of community relations for Covington schools, conceived the program. It started at Thomas Edison Elementary last year and moved to Swing this year.

"Covington schools have never had string music," said Weathers. "There was a need here for the children to be able to learn this - for them, for the social effects and, as studies have shown, to improve their academics."

"An ongoing study in the correlation between music and SAT scores shows that kids tend to score 50 points higher in math and verbal," said Mike Blakeslee, deputy executive director of the National Association for Music Education.

"And in programs like (Covington Youth Strings), kids also learn that their contribution to the ensemble is very important and a big responsibility, and that's a good lesson for them."

This year's program, which is still seeking funding, costs about $12,000 to operate. Contributions, including one from the Fine Arts Fund in Cincinnati, are helping pay for instruction and instrument rentals.

Potts, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and teaching assistant at the school, started her music career in a similar program as a child in Las Vegas, Nev.

"This teaches them to be disciplined and focused," Potts said. "They're picking up things so quickly. I have every faith they'll be ready for the concert."

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