“Any child with an interest in music can learn an instrument. Musical ability does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter what the color of a child’s skin is, what neighborhood they are growing up in, or how much money their parents make. Given equal opportunity, there is nothing that separates children in terms of their potential to learn music, regardless of their background. “
The quote above by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese musician and educator who died in 1998, is the core of Sherri Anderson’s philosophy on instructing music. Through a Stretto Youth Chamber Orchestra program called Trinity Strings, Anderson has been providing equity in an activity where a child’s involvement is typically dependent on their family’s ability to pay the requisite fees.
Trinity Strings is a children’s string education program located at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton. The program provides group instruction for beginners, where students develop the habits and skills to practice music independently. After three years of group lessons, they are expected to move on to higher-level private instruction and theory classes, which Trinity Strings also provides. The program’s goal for students who invest in their studies is graduation with competitive, college-level musical knowledge and ability.
“It’s an initiative based on the belief that if you open up opportunities—in neighborhoods that are middle- to low-income—for people to learn how to play at an advanced level, there will be a desire,” Anderson said. “There’s just no access [elsewhere] because it’s a very expensive commitment.”
In other musical instruction programs, the price of lessons can reach up to three $3,000 annually, with an extra $5,000 for a quality instrument. This doesn’t include chamber groups, theory classes, and involvement in orchestras, all of which have fees.
The prices of Trinity Strings’ Saturday group lessons start at $15 per week, with an instrument rental rate of $50 per six months. The program allows students to play in an orchestra as well, which includes opportunities to travel abroad. In an effort to further promote inclusion in the program, all rates are offered on a sliding fee scale to match what each family can afford.
While Trinity Strings may be an inexpensive option for music lessons, the quality and expectations of the program are top notch. Anderson has created a culture of personal responsibility for the students, staff, and parents, based on self-regulation.
For the younger kids and their parents, this concept is introduced through the group sessions. In their first three years of lessons, parents are required to attend each session. Anderson stressed the important role parents play in their child’s development. To her, it is of utmost importance for parents to create structure and a positive environment in their homes, because “no child practices because they feel like it.”
“In order to do early childhood education, you need the parent,” she said. “Your job as a parent at home is to provide structure, and for everything that comes out of that child’s instrument, you’ve got to tell them; ‘I love it, play it again.’ We’re taking away from the parent the idea that they need to critique their child’s play, and we’re asking them to be their child’s biggest cheerleader.”
As the students get older, they are accustomed to and enveloped into this culture of personal responsibility. When asked to describe this culture, Anderson said, “It’s peaceful and a lot of work gets done. Everyone knows what their work is, and for the time the kids are young, we work on allowing them and encouraging them to self-regulate. We don’t really use a reward/punishment system here. Our discipline is structure, discipline is values.”
Over Trinity Strings’ 12 years of growth, Anderson has helped create a culture of fun, respect, and responsibility, which has led to some amazing work being done.
A group of 80 students and parents has just returned from a trip to Switzerland. Anderson said the orchestra tries to travel internationally every three years, with help from donations and grants. In addition to cheese tastings, hikes, and cow watching, the group played five concerts across the country, all in nine days.
Overall, Trinity Strings is a program that provides students with unforgettable experiences, life lessons, and high-level musical ability, no matter what their background is. More information about Trinity Strings can be found here