The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the University of Wyoming
University of Wyoming
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Laramie, WY 82071-2000
By Micaela Myers
Each week, dozens of third- and fourth-graders pour into the basement of the Education Building with cello, viola and violin cases in tow. They gather in groups of 15 to 20 on a colorful carpet and learn to make music one step at a time. At first it’s noisy chaos, but note by note, as the weeks progress, the students gain mastery of their instruments.
There are 90 to 100 students each semester, and many return year after year all the way through high school, progressing to private lessons and ensembles. Some graduates of the program now attend UW themselves, learning to teach the next generation of musicians.
The University of Wyoming String Project is entering its 14th year of not only helping children learn to play string instruments but also educating future teachers in the process.
“It serves two functions: as a teacher training program and as a way of delivering lessons and classes to kids,” explains James Przygocki, professor of music and director of the project. “The impetus for it was a big, national study that indicated there was a huge string teacher shortage. There are a lot of musicians and music students, but a lot of them aren’t considering teaching as a profession.”
The program now attracts future teachers from around the country. “The string project is what really helped me decide to come to UW,” says Ruth Jacobs, a senior music education major from Casper. “I was looking at other schools, too, but I really wanted to work with kids at an early level in my studying. I’m student teaching next semester, and I feel like this is helping me a lot in my confidence and teaching skills.”
The program was also a major part of Leslie Fox’s decision to come to UW. “There are not many chances like this to get this kind of experience and to not only learn how to teach but to put into practice what you’re learning with actual students,” she says. Originally from Michigan, Fox is getting her master’s degree in music—viola performance with a music education certification. “It definitely trains us to be good teachers,” she says of the program. “We know what to do, and we know what to expect. We have a chance to improve our skills and put something really excellent on our resume. I’m learning, and I love teaching.”
UW String Project graduates are now teaching around the state and across the country. In addition to what the 15 student teachers get out of the program each semester, the third- through 12th-grade students also gain a great deal—all for just $60-$70 a semester, thanks to support from organizations such as the Wyoming Arts Council, the UW College of Arts and Sciences, the UW Department of Music, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Maggie-George Foundation.
“There are a lot of benefits to musical study,” Przygocki explains. “There’s all this research these days about the impact on brain development, and we’re seeing more and more evidence of that.”
“I think it’s immeasurable all the things they get out of it—their language skills, their reading skills, their math skills,” Fox says. “They learn perseverance, patience, self-control and how to behave in a group with teamwork and cooperation.”
“It gives the kids a head start,” Jacobs says, noting that local public schools don’t begin string instruction opportunities until fifth grade.
“It also gives them a head start in responsibility building and maturity,” Fox adds.
All the young students get an equal shot at success, and who falls in love with music is sometimes a surprise, Przygocki says. “You can’t always predict who is going to do well—who is going to excel. Sometimes there will be kids that you’re not sure it’s for them, and the next thing you know, it becomes really important to them,” he explains. “This program can make a big impact.”