As Program Blooms, String Sprouts Aims to Provide Music Education ‘For All’ | Sponsored Features
By Kevin Warneke / Special for the Omaha Conservatory of Music
It’s so important: String Sprouts, a program that introduces preschoolers to the joy of making music on string instruments, should have no limits on who can participate.
“String Sprouts was designed for all children. Now it’s really available for everyone,” said Candace Jorgensen, director of programming at the Omaha Conservatory, which launched String Sprouts in 2013.
With roots in the Suzuki Method and El Sistema, String Sprouts was created by Ruth Meints, Executive Director of the Omaha Conservatory of Music. The program includes a music education curriculum with unique compositions to keep students aged 3 to 8 excited to learn and practice basic musical skills – repetitive sounds and movements designed to provide a foundation to deepen their musical abilities.
Students, with the help of a carer or teaching assistant from their school, learn to play the violin, viola, cello or double bass. Classes are given either at school or in extracurricular locations.
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The challenge regarding participation was the program guidelines, Jorgensen said. Previously, only children from families that fell below financial guidelines and were underserved could participate in the free program.
Now, families with incomes above those guidelines can pay on a sliding scale — with a cap of $600 per school year. The program includes all the instructions and the use of an instrument.
“Everyone deserves the opportunity for a high-quality music education,” said Jules DeSalvo, himself a middle and high school music teacher whose three boys were introduced to the cello by String Sprouts.
Five-year-old Max loves his teacher, DeSalvo said. “He has a great relationship with Miss Molly.” 7-year-old Patrick also loves his teacher and enjoys learning new songs. Tony, 11, is a String Sprouts graduate who felt a sense of accomplishment when the songs ended. The program boosted his self-confidence. , said Tony’s father.
“The teachers are wonderfully patient and understanding. They know how to teach music to very young children,” DeSalvo said.
Sam Perkins is one such teacher. The String Sprouts program includes 17 lead teachers and 29 assistant teachers who lead programs at 16 sites, including schools in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area. Approximately 1,000 students participated in String Sprouts during the 2021-2022 school year.
Perkins, a lead violin and viola teacher, has been with the program for seven years. She knows that introducing young people to music at an early age brings benefits later in life: being responsible, selfless and conscientious.
She shared the story of a 4-year-old in her viola class who wanted nothing to do with the program when it started the year before. He refused to try, had temper tantrums, and seemed to not pay attention. “But he was,” Perkins said. “He can now stand and play seven songs. He looks like such a professional when he does it. It’s fun to see how this growth is happening.
Jorgensen said String Sprouts promotes family. Students take their instruments home to practice. “It’s part of their daily routine. Practice is how we get better at something — and not just music,” she said.
String Sprouts’ year includes a final concert with the Omaha Symphony (for Grades 1 and 5 students in April) and, this year, Sprouts in the Park (for Grades 2-4) scheduled for May 21 at Turner Park. “There’s so much music and community to enjoy this spring,” Jorgensen said.
Applying is as easy as going to omaha.stringsprouts.org and share certain personal information: the number of people in your household and your annual income. String Sprouts receives funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and many local foundations and benefactors. “We are blessed to have the Omaha community behind our children,” Jorgensen said.