The Fairview Violin Project began in the fall of 2008 as a collaboration between the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the Monroe County Community School Corporation, and Fairview Elementary School. This program started with the intention of answering some basic research questions concerning the academic, cognitive and social effects of early violin study. We chose the first grade as the initial subject group because we were particularly interested in the effects of violin lessons on the emergent reading process.
With a generous donation of fractional-sized violins from the Jacobs School, we began teaching the first graders for 25 minutes twice weekly during the school day. Violin class was given in place of the traditional general music class, although the curriculum was written to incorporate Indiana state standards in music, language arts, and mathematics. Given that the school was considered “failing” due to its low performance on the standardized testing prescribed by the “No Child Left Behind” Act, we placed great importance on the use of a broader scope within the curriculum. Underlying the premise of this study is our belief that the more we could draw connections between music and the other subjects the children were studying, the stronger their skills would become, both musically and academically. Practicing bears a remarkable similarity in every subject!
The beginning classes in 2008 included approximately 45 first graders divided into three groups of 15 children. I taught all the large groups with the assistance of graduate student, Kasia Bugaj, who was assigned to help with the project. In addition, a doctoral violin performance student played piano for the classes, and the general music teacher at Fairview, Kathy Heise, was a participant/teacher. Ms. Heise is a singer, not a violinist, and the children found both commiserative enjoyment and reassuring comfort in watching her struggle right along with them while learning to play.
In addition to the large group classes twice a week, all children participated in a small group session (typically involving three to five children) once a week during recess. The small group sessions allowed for more specific instruction and additional practice, which was crucial since these children did not take the instruments home. To our surprise, the children (with only a few exceptions) looked forward to the recess violin lessons, which allowed them to bond with their peers through music-making.
In the fall of 2008, Shalin Liu of the Summer Star Foundation visited the Fairview Project and became its benefactor. Through its patronage, Summer Star provides funding for IU student instructors to assist in the classroom. In addition, it funds research and supports the purchase and maintenance of instruments. This generous donation continues to allow the Fairview Project to flourish and grow.
In 2009, we expanded the program to include all first and second graders at Fairview. Doing so extended the treatment period for the research and enabled continued study for the children. When we began teaching at Fairview, the faculty and administration wholeheartedly embraced our mission, but the students and parents were understandably skeptical. For the most part, string playing was outside their realm of experience. As the children progressed and the parents witnessed their pleasure and success through multiple concerts, the project became a unique and powerful tool for bringing positive energy to the Fairview children and those they touched with their music.
In the third year of the project (2010-2011), we continued to provide lessons during the day to all first and second graders. In addition, any third grader who was interested in continuing violin studies, had “earned” the right to take an instrument home, take private lessons, and participate in an after-school group class. The pride on these children’s faces as they carried “their” instruments home was immense.
This year, we continue the private/group lesson option into the fourth grade. Since our arrival in 2008, Fairview has moved to a Bernstein Artful Learning curricular model, which incorporates the arts into all subject areas . We currently teach approximately 100 first and second graders, and more than 20 third and fourth graders. Fairview’s identity as “the violin school” attracts and retains students, deepening their educational experience in a unique and positive way.