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The littlest big band

Glacier Valley kids pack the house for strings concert

Posted: April 18, 2014 - 12:09am
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Glacier Valley Elementary School first-grader Mary Camary drums on exercise balls with classmates during a concert for students and families during a school assembly on Thursday. One-hundred-thirty first through third graders were involved with singing, drumming and playing string instruments.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Glacier Valley Elementary School first-grader Mary Camary drums on exercise balls with classmates during a concert for students and families during a school assembly on Thursday. One-hundred-thirty first through third graders were involved with singing, drumming and playing string instruments.

It’s not every day that you get to hear 130 violinists younger than 9 play at the same time. Unless you’re Lorrie Heagy, that is.

Heagy is Glacier Valley Elementary School’s music teacher and the organizer of Juneau Alaska Music Matters, or JAMM, a group that provides free loaner violins for primary students kindergarten through third grade at Glacier Valley and kindergarten through second grade at two other elementary schools.

For 90 minutes each week, every Glacier Valley kindergartener and first-grader takes a violin class through the program. Instruments are provided. Riverbend and Auke Bay elementaries have their own programs.

On Thursday morning, 130 Glacier Valley students serenaded a full house in the school’s gym with several pieces. The approximately 130 string players ended the concert with “This Land is Our Land,” winding their way out of the auditorium while singing the lyrics.

The focus and persistence it takes to get ready for a concert doesn’t come naturally to all kids, but is an emphasis of the program, Heagy said — JAMM’s goal is to help kids translate the skills needed to play music into everyday life.

“It was quite an undertaking bringing them all together,” she said after the show. “It helps them become contributors.”

Jennifer Plummer’s daughter Cadence has been involved in the program since kindergarten and JAMM’s inception. Now in second grade, Cadence has become so much more confident because of the performance experience, Plummer said.

Stephanie Means’ granddaughter Maya John-Beavers “has come a long way with her singing and her music,” she said. “She’s more focused.”

Besides learning to play an instrument, students learn patience and responsibility.

“You put a beautiful instrument in their hand and they have to take care of it, they have to control their body,” Heagy said.

Among the three schools, 410 students share 200 violins, each worth $150. Each instrument was purchased with donations and support from the Juneau Community Foundation. Students check out the barcode-labeled instruments like library books and return them on a weekly basis. The school district contributes by allowing the participating schools to set aside 90 minutes of school time each week for violin instruction, Heagy said.

“We’ve made an incredible connection with the community and parents,” she said. “This school has strengthened its ties with parents.”

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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