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UPFRONT: THE REWARDS OF COLORED VIOLINS

Josh Harris • February 2002 • February 1, 2002

In the beginning, the excitement of learning to play an instrument is enough to sustain a student’s interest in music education. The instrument itself is a new experience – putting the five pieces of the clarinet together to make it whole; tightening and loosening the strings on the violin to tune the instrument; oiling the valves of the trumpet to make it easy to move the “buttons” and create a sound.

colored violinsThe sound – whether a squawk from a reed or a buzz from a brass mouthpiece – propels students to another new level of excitement. Then they can form notes and play a song and eventually perform a concert. They proudly carry their instrument cases onto the bus and home to practice. The children on the bus want to see what could possibly fit in the slim flute case or the oddly shaped French horn case. Their friends marvel at the shiny silver flute and gold horn that the students adeptly assemble.

But what happens when the novelty of the new instrument wears off and the students are bored playing the same beginner’s music over and over?

The answer for some string teachers is introducing the colored violin to their repertoire. The Lidl Custom Color Violins – available in red, yellow, blue, green, purple and black from Geneva International Corporation – have been used in many classrooms as recruitment and retention tools.

Suzette Chavez, orchestra teacher at Austin Middle School in San Juan, Texas, has incorporated a purple violin and a blue violin into her program. The students have named the instruments after colorful TV characters. The purple violin is named Barney, after the singing and dancing purple dinosaur, and the blue violin is called Blue, after the inquisitive dog on the show “Blue’s Clues.”

“The kids love the instruments,” Chavez says. “I use them as incentives and as recruiting material. If a kid does really well in class, I let them use it for the day. We do an activity at the beginning of the class period. Whoever does it the best or if someone is paying very close attention and I notice that, I’ll say, ‘Why don’t you go ahead and play Blue today.’ “
Chavez has found that the colored violins have helped her in the discipline department as well.

“If the students are being a little unruly, I’ll just say, ‘Well, I guess nobody will be playing Barney today.’ And then they’re like little angels,” she explains.

Barney and Blue go along on recruiting outings to the elementary schools. The colored instruments have become very popular with the young students, who ask for the violins by name.

“It’s helped a lot with recruiting. The kids are just ecstatic. They all wanted to play Barney the first day of school.”

Also, when the orchestras play recruiting concerts, Chavez “color-codes” the sections – the violins wear blue; the cellos wear purple, the violas wear red and the basses wear gold. The back of the students’ shirts have messages on them that say, “Cellos Rock” or “Basses Rock.” In these performances, the violinists will play the purple and blue violins. “It looks really neat when we’re recruiting,” she adds.

Gretchen Zunich, district string teacher in the Upper Arlington School District of Columbus, Ohio, has introduced a green violin into her program at Jones Middle School. “I use it to teach a lot and I will let the kids play on it as a reward,” says Zunich. “The kids think it’s a really big deal.”

Zunich had a local shop outfit her with a green bow to match her violin.
“The kids think that’s really cool.”

The green violin gets quite a bit of attention from younger students during recruiting sessions, when Zunich demonstrates each of the string instruments.

“Last year, I took the green violin and the kids just thought it was really cool and they all wanted to touch it and see it. It’s one more neat little thing I can show them.”

The Model 25 Custom Color Violin is created in the Czech Republic town of Luby, and combines old-world craftsmanship techniques and today’s modern technological advances. When completed, the instruments are custom-finished by Geneva International Corporation at its own shop in Wheeling, Ill.

According to Greg Schoeneck of Geneva International Corporation, the violins were created, in part, to encourage more students to join orchestra programs across the country. “Kids are drawn to the colored instruments,” he explains. “Since we’re competing against computers and video games, this is a way to stimulate interest in the orchestra.”

Chavez and Zunich agree that the colored violins have been an important addition to their string programs and recommend that other directors consider the idea.

“If they want to increase their numbers and if they want kids to remember the orchestra, buy them,” Chavez says. “If we’re going to keep up with the times and keep up with these kids who are all into technology and they want all this loud stuff – loud music, loud clothes, loud games – you need to find something to pique their interest, and these work great.”

Zunich adds: “I think it’s been good for the kids. There are so many different ways you can use it, but just having it seems to have gotten them a little more excited about things. The fact that they can, every now and then, have a chance to play on it is a motivator for them.”

UpFront appeared on pages 12 – 14 in the February issue of School Band and Orchestra.

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