The strings - violins, violas, cellos and a few bass fiddles - were on fire, on the move and out in force at the spring concert in the Chatsworth auditorium on Wednesday, April 22.
A string program that had only a handful of students when Amy Rosen began as a part time teacher in October of 1979 has grown this year to an all-time record of 132 musicians. And thirty years after the music program began, Ms. Rosen is still wielding the baton.
In addition to “Fiddles on Fire” by Williams, the orchestra played music by Offenbach, Meyers, Dvorak and Strommen. A special ensemble, the Chatsworth Avenue Strolling Strings, performed two fiddle tunes – Cripple Creek and Bile ‘Em Cabbage Down – while walking through the auditorium and balcony.
“It’s amazing to see all those young musicians on stage so proud of themselves,” said Rebecca Sheehan, a parent with three string-playing sons.
One grandparent said she got “chills and teary-eyed” when the strolling strings came through. Ms. Rosen agreed, “You have that kind of excitement – more kids are strolling than ever.” she said.
Don’t tell the kids or the grandparents, but the strolling strings are about more than thrills. ”Kids don’t tend to memorize that much, but to stroll around they have to,” explained Ms. Rosen. “I’m so pleased that so many are choosing to learn the music.”
The Orchestra Starts Growing
Back in 1979, there were so few string students in the district that Ms. Rosen was assigned to Murray, Chatsworth, Mamaroneck Avenue and the Hommocks. By 1981, there were additional string teachers in the district. Ms. Rosen covered only Murray and Chatsworth. And now there were 26 string students at Chatsworth alone.
Soon, Ms. Rosen was teaching full-time and her string classes had grown to around 75 at Chatsworth and about the same number at Murray. By 1991, there was another growth spurt. Ms. Rosen’s groups were up to 85 in each school.
Then came a major shake-up. A combination of the burgeoning population and the adoption of an expanded middle school model led the district to move all of its sixth grades to the Hommocks in 1998. The next year, the district approved a plan to eliminate the third grade strings program.
However, by 2001, the third grade strings were back in the curriculum, and Ms. Rosen’s orchestras continued to grow.
Today, she has 132 players at Chatsworth and 120 at Murray. She gets help with the large classes from part-time string teacher Howard Lapidus, who is assigned one day to Chatsworth and one day to Murray.
The large elementary orchestras are feeding into an expanded string program at the Hommocks, which now has a 6th, 7th and 8th grade orchestra and additional chamber groups. At Mamaroneck High School, the symphony orchestra boasts close to 100 string students in and there are two chamber groups.
Students Look Back
Through the years, Ms. Rosen has had many students who become life-long music lovers and some, like violinist Benjamin Hellman, who become professional musicians as well.
“The program at the Chatsworth School was more than anything else a lot of fun,” wrote Mr. Hellman in a recent email, “but before long, I realized that the success I was feeling, spurred me on to make great progress. I have performed with many top orchestras and I believe I never would have appreciated and formed a love of the violin repertoire without these early experiences. “