Mountain West String Academy students learn confidence, joy of music
Imagine being handed a violin and told that you are expected in three months to perform seven songs in front of your friends and family. Sound impossible?
Not for the students who participate in the Mountain West String Academy (MWSA)! Over 600 students from Cache County and Logan City School Districts participated in holiday orchestra concerts at Logan High School on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of December. About half of these young musicians started playing just three months ago.
MWSA is an elementary orchestra program available to Cache Valley elementary students starting in the fourth grade. This year, MWSA is celebrating its 20th anniversary, after beginning as a single orchestra class at Providence Elementary School in 1999. Currently, the academy orchestras consist of first-year students, second-year students, and an elite Ambassador Orchestra of students who audition to participate. Students meet twice a week before or after school to rehearse, with optional Saturday lab classes once a month.
Students have the choice to play one of the four-string instruments — violin, viola, cello, or upright bass. Throughout the year, students are taught proper posture and technique. They also learn music theory and how to read rhythm, notes, and other symbols that are written into their music. According to former MWSA director Dr. James McWhorter, “For some children, this may be the best thing they do in their life, giving them self-esteem and a sense of belonging.”
Many others agree that music education can make a profound difference in the lives of young students. “Orchestra music brings a lot of joy,” said Michelle King, a teacher at River Heights Elementary. “Not only is there a huge educational value to playing, but there is also this rush you get when you play together in a group, and you accomplish something that you have been working hard for all semester. That joy and excitement just brings a whole new level of enjoyment in your life.”
Not only does the orchestra enrich the lives of the students, but its teachers as well. According to teacher Melanie Fowler, “Being a teacher is great because it helps me grow musically in ways that I would never be able to otherwise. I have to have a much deeper understanding in order to teach it to my students.”
Fowler continued, “It’s great for kids because it can open them up to something new that they have never done and have experiences that they would never experience. It gives them confidence now that they will use later on in life. Getting up and playing on a stage, that’s hard! But it will be easier for them later in life because they did it with the orchestra. Not only are they learning music, but they are also learning skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.”
In addition to the MWSA orchestra, students can also participate in CCSD's Junior Chamber Orchestra (JCO). The JCO is a 6th-grade 3rd-year program intended for students who have previous orchestra experience.