Paganinis on paper

Posted: Sunday, November 14, 2010

Glacier Valley Elementary School's kindergartners assembled in the gym with parents and others eager to see the students play their paper violins this week.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The students held a concert showing off the base skills needed to play a violin. Each held their bow (a wooden dowel) at their side.

Music teacher and librarian Lorrie Heagy begins counting: one - the five and six year olds stand tall and attentive; two - their feet form a "v" shape; three - left foot turns out; four - heads lift up; five - they hold the paper violins at arms length; six - elbows move inward; seven - they place the violin under their chins; eight - tilt the violin up and are ready to play.

The 60 kindergartners followed Heagy and Xia GuoHua, the violin teacher, through several songs where students showed off the skills they had learned. Some songs the students sang with - like the Alaskan Twinkle - as they "played" their paper violin. The concert also mixed in first-graders with combined music activities and a drum class.

Two months ago, the kindergartners made their own violins out of cardboard. As they mastered skills in their classes, more pieces of the violin were added. This program was initiated by Heagy after her inaugural participation in the Abreau Fellows. She and nine others traveled to Venezuela to study the El Sistema program and bring the idea back to places like Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and Juneau. Heagy formed Juneau Alaska Music Matters and it is in its first year at Glacier Valley.

"It is truly a partnership and a collaboration of many people," Heagy said.

This step marks the beginning of a new phase for the kindergartners. Instead of carefully handling their cardboard creations, they now will get to hold and play real violins.

Xia, who has taught violin for more than 20 years, said he was impressed with the performance because he saw that the students have the foundations necessary to move forward. He said he has never taught like this before - with such a large group of students and particularly at this age.

"This program is special," he said. "Lorrie Heagy spends so much time, so much talent - that makes this happen."

Parents were impressed with what the program has taught their children.

Garry Remsberg said it was fabulous.

"It was absolutely stunning," he said. "I think we're pretty fortunate to have it in our community. Hopefully it will get all the kids interested in music. Hopefully, they will pursue it beyond kindergarten."

Kassie Zamora watched her daughter perform.

"I think that the program is absolutely fantastic," she said. "Juneau is very blessed to have it. It's taught my child a lot of structure and discipline. I think the teachers have done an awesome job of pulling everything together."

Zamora believes the discipline and structure involved in the program will not only be beneficial to her child in music, but also learning other subjects.

Laraine Derr, a former district administrator, watched her twin grandsons.

"I think it's amazing for a town our size to have a program like this," she said. "So often we have just the bad stuff about the district."

She believes in the generosity of Juneau and believes it will come up with a way to continue funding JAMM.

"I see they're (her grandchildren) wanting to come to school every day and music is a part of that," she said.

Heagy said she was most impressed with how well the 5- and 6-year-old children have taken to the program.

"The biggest surprise of this program has been the extreme determination of our kindergartners to prove that they can do this," she said. "After (the) performance, there is no question in anyone's mind. Another surprise has been the international interest that our program is receiving. Our blog (, which documents weekly the JAMM violin program just received over 10,000 hits from locations all over the country and almost every continent. We are making an impact locally and globally."

JAMM's major sponsors this year were the Douglas-Dornan Foundation and the Association of Alaska School Boards, along with other community donations.

With that funding the school was able to purchase 35 violins.

"We hope to have 25 more so that all 60 (students) can play together," Heagy said. "Our hope is that another school will want to start a similar program for their kindergartners the following year so we could gift it forward to them."

She said a full set of violins could be shared between two schools for classes, and they would have to carefully schedule concerts so all kindergartners in one school could perform together.

Heagy is looking at how to best fund and continue music programs like this in the future. She said one idea is to move the morning music options to after-school programs to allow for peer mentoring.

As far as violin, it could remain in kindergarten classes as a foundation and then continue as an after-school program in first grade, she said.

Heagy said the thing that is so powerful about having violin within regular instruction periods is the collaboration of students and the results parents see. She said once the students and parents move on from kindergarten, they know what they can expect out of playing violin.

For more information on JAMM or to donate go to juneau

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at

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