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Music program helps fill gaps in schools

South West Music School provides after-school music lessons


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jaiden, a first-grader at Bethany Elementary School, listens to instructions by Jake Schmidt of Beaverton Music Services on how to play the violin.Suzanne Gaye, a violinist and viola player since childhood, will never be comfortable with the way music programs outside the marching band realm have gradually diminished in Beaverton and other school districts.

“It’s really sad to see this,” she says. “Elementary students in the Beaverton district are only getting music lessons once every six days. You can’t run a program through that. You can’t get any continuity.”

When the district stopped offering stringed-instrument classes in the early 1990s, the Greenway resident — who had taught string music classes in several district schools — decided to take up the slack. Initially creating the Beaverton Strings Program, she joined forces in 1995 with the existing South West Music School, a nonprofit program vocalist Steve Galvan, Maria Chobin and cellist Jerry Bobbe formed in 1992 to offer after-school music classes for local students.by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Suzanne Gaye volunteers as the string-music coordinator for South West Music School.

In addition to elementary-level violin classes, the program offers a multi-level orchestra, group cello classes, string bass as well as a middle and high school beginners’ class. Held at various locations in the Beaverton School District, lessons from the stable of five teachers cost around $420 per year, which includes 29 classes and a recital concert.

Gaye, whose son Chris provides bass and violin lessons, says the program does its best to make lessons affordable while keeping itself afloat.

“It’s a lot less expensive than private lessons,” she says. “What I like is the socialization and working together. Kids get to learn together.”

Although awareness of the program is a challenge, demand for music knowledge, she maintains, has never been an issue.

“I’ve never had any problem finding students,” she says. “I’ve always had a waiting list in my private studio.”

On Tuesday evening, string-music hopefuls filed into the cafeteria at Cedar Park Middle School, 11100 S.W. Park Ave., to try on violins and violas for size, literally, and discuss lesson schedules with a handful of teachers in the program.

Ten-year-old Olivia Buist, a fifth-grader at Ridgewood Elementary School, came by with her mother, Catriona, to sign up for the orchestra classes. Inspired by mom’s instrument of choice, Olivia picked up the violin four years ago.

“I just wanted to play an instrument, and since my mom played the violin, I decided to play as well,” she says, adding she looks forward to being in an orchestra. “I have the chance to play with other kids my age who enjoy it.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Carlos Ferrer, a seventh-grader at the Arts and Communication Magnet Academy, stands with his arm extended while being sized for a viola by Jake Schmidt of Beaverton Music Services.

Chris Gaye, who started playing while a fourth-grader at Raleigh Park Elementary School, says children taking after their musically inclined parents is an inspiring trend.

“The interest gets passed on from generation to generation, and that’s exciting to see,” he says, noting a lack of awareness does keep some children from exploring string music through the South West Music School. “I don’t think people are aware of it.”

Suzanne Gaye agrees, noting that inquiries for lessons suffered when district guidelines dictated that flyers would only go home with students without email addresses.

“We used to put flyers in children’s backpacks,” she says. “Then (the district) went to email and responses dropped like a lead balloon. We’re not getting the message out.”

Cello teacher Kathie Reed laments the loss in school-time string instruction as well as the days when ensembles and orchestras in the Beaverton district regularly progressed to state contests.

“I think it’s important to fill the void that presently exists in young people’s education,” she says. “They’re not seeing the programs in the schools.”

When they do find a program that lets them explore the connection between music, creativity and learning, it’s worth the effort and frustration in having to work around the educational system.

“When a kid gets it, truly understands and makes that connection,” Chris Gaye says, “it’s a really cool thing to see.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jake Schmidt of Beaverton Music Services shows Aurora McCrary-Bond, a second-grader at Ridgewood Elementary School and her mother, Kelola, the type of violin she will be playing at South West Music School.