Jessica Embach, who teaches through the University of Texas String Project, is helping create the new string program at Ambleside School. Photo by Phil Houseal
Students in Ambleside's new string orchestra program presented their first public performance last Christmas. The group will perform for the school's spring recital on April 20. Photo by Phil Houseal
by Phil Houseal
There are some new string slingers in town. Last fall, Ambleside School started its own string orchestra program. Sixteen students began with weekly lessons, and advanced enough in a few months to perform a piece at the Christmas recital in December. Next Monday, they will showcase their progress during the Ambleside Spring Concert.
Laurie Jenschke, Director of Ambleside’s Vocal Music Education program, and Maryellen St. Cyr, Director of Curriculum, came up with the idea of adding Fredericksburg's first string orchestra program to the school.
They faced several challenges. Their first was to overcome the initial expenses of private lessons and the purchasing of instruments. The school held a fundraiser concert by Karla Hamelin to help raise enough money to underwrite the ensemble rehearsals for all of the students this spring and next fall. Currently, students are responsible for lesson and instrument costs.
Their next hurdle was finding a string teacher who had the same vision of growing a program from the ground up and having it expand to all grades in the school.
Their search led to Jessica Embach, who teaches through the University of Texas String Project, chosen recently as the top string program in the United States. She has an undergraduate degree in performance and master's degree in music education. While Embach has participated in teaching other string programs, this is her first opportunity to build one from the beginning.
"This is thrilling," she said. "I'm a Suzuki teacher, and grew up in the Suzuki method. Coming from that philosophy, I am gratified to be able to pass this on."
According to Embach, the point of the Suzuki method is not necessarily to master technical proficiency on the violin, but rather to be able to express the beauty of the heart through music.
"That is something I love to do," she said. "It has been exciting melding this philosophy with the school philosophy - that every child can learn."
Jenschke, who has her own esteemed career in building and directing vocal music groups, has had a front row seat watching students acquire lifelong skills by participating in music programs.
"Playing a musical instrument enhances a child’s life experiences by giving the child self-confidence, physical coordination, problem-solving skills, self-discipline, appreciation of the arts, logical reasoning skills, communication skills, the ability to conceptualize, the ability to interpret symbols, and the important skill of working as a team member for the greater good of the team’s success," Jenschke said. "We are so excited because it will bring much joy to our students, our school and to the community."
The program's five-year plan includes purchasing enough string instruments so that every student from Kindergarten through upper school will be playing during the school week. They also want to raise enough funds so that Embach will be able to teach at the school one full day every week.
That would suit Embach just fine.
"I think it is a great match," she said. "We are going to be successful."