Strings broaden musical tastes for Grace Christian Academy students

Posted on 11 May 2016

By Carolyn Iamon

Photos by Nichole Buchanan & Carolyn Iamon

DSCF7522Seven years ago Charlie Strickland began a project to offer a cultural music experience to a small group of sixth grade students at Grace Christian Academy. He started giving them lessons on stringed instruments, thereby creating the only stringed instrument program in the local schools. Of the area schools, only Thomasville and Tallahassee have string programs.

The second year he picked up even more students, and the program has continued to grow over the years. It is currently under the tutelage of Heather Whittaker, who first began playing with Strickland’s group, Port City Strings. She took over teaching strings when Strickland became Head of School. Although she has a Master’s in American History and taught previously at Bainbridge College, her degree is not in music, but she has been playing violin since age 10 and is proficient on all strings except the double bass, which she is presently learning because she said they need it in the ensemble.

In the beginning the class played mostly Celtic music. Whittaker said she is now trying to broaden their musical horizons by teaching the classics, such as Vivaldi. 

There are two classes. The beginners have 11 students. They are eligible to start lessons in sixth grade and all begin on the violin to learn the basics. They may then move on to viola or cello.  The school supplies the instruments.

The advanced class is for those who have had at least two years on the instrument. There are 10 students in that group, four of whom are graduating seniors this year. They are Jack McRae and Lindsay Duke, cello; and Ansley Stuart and Annabelle Smith on violin, all of whom began the second year of the program. ”It was kind of cool being in one of the first groups,” said Lindsay. “We were probably looked on at first as sort of nerds by the other students.” Now, the string players can be considered inspiration to beginners.

C.J. Marshburn, a seventh grader in the beginner class said he played violin for two weeks and found it to be too little for his hands. “When I saw Jack (McRae) play the cello, I thought I want to do that too. The cello fits my hands better.”

All agreed that learning to play a stringed instrument can be difficult. Ansley said it was hard for her at first, but eventually everything just clicked into place. 

Lindsay had a background in piano so she could read music, but her biggest problem was her very small hands that fit the violin perfectly, but it became literally quite a stretch to handle the Cello.

Jack McRae had played guitar before, but had to learn to read music. Like everyone else he began on violin learning the treble clef, then had to learn the bass clef when he switched to Cello. He said he was probably “promoted” to the Cello because he was the biggest student in the class.

They are members of the string ensemble that has played for several local events, including the Tables of Love at First Baptist Church, other church meetings, the re-dedication of the cannon in Willis Park, and the Artist Guild spring show at the Firehouse.

Asked if they will continue to play the instruments after graduation, they weren’t sure except for Lindsay who said she is going to buy her own cello so she can continue playing.

A final orchestral pops spring concert will be held Friday, May 6 at First United Methodist Church.

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