These Sounds Are Not of Silence

Do you hear that? Not the almost-autumn breeze in the poplars. Not the surf washing up against our shores. Not the weekend traffic coming north for the fall colors. The sound you hear is violins, violas, cellos, and string bass, and it’s being created by local children, many playing instruments donated to the Door County String Academy. And though you’re more likely to hear a Humoresque than Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, it’s certain that the young players’ musical tastes and appreciation are being influenced for their lifetimes.

The Door County String Academy’s (DCSA) mission is dedicated to providing our community with positive quality violin, viola, cello, and string bass education for Door County youth that honors the potential in every child and supports the skills necessary for lifelong learning. Extraordinary, experienced teachers provide lessons and orchestra opportunities to the children of Door County. Master classes and small ensemble groups are also part of the curriculum.

It’s well known that musical training enhances many aspects of a child’s development, including higher scores on standardized tests, improved performance in English and math, and significantly higher graduation rates. To cite just one of many concrete examples, The Midland Chemist reported that nearly 100 percent of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in math, science, and technology for high school students play one or more musical instruments, leading to a recital by winners in Carnegie Hall. Stringed instruments can especially impact early child development, because their array of sizes means that instruction can begin as young as three.

“The Academy began in 1996 as the youth string program of the Peninsula Music Festival,” says board member Lolly Ratajczak. “Two years ago we became our own non-profit organization supported by the board, dedicated volunteers, a small professional staff, and our generous donors. Several concerts and recitals are given every year, and the young musicians delight in and are proud to perform for appreciative audiences.”

DCSA student Maddie LeClair says, “It’s just a thrill to make music with my friends. If I’m in a bad mood, playing my cello makes me feel better.”

This season, DCSA introduces two new teachers. Danielle Simandl, the academy’s violin and viola instructor, comes from Appleton and recently graduated from Lawrence University. Her experience with the Lawrence String Project will be very helpful for the young students in her charge. Kimberly Souther and her family have recently moved to Sturgeon Bay from Texas, and she’ll be working with the cello and bass students at the academy. Souther’s students have gained national recognition. Both Kimberly and Danielle perform professionally with area orchestras. Souther says, “I’m an admirer of the academy’s program, and I’m very excited to be part of the awesome arts tradition in Door County.”

In addition to the teachers, the academy depends on its Board of Directors and many volunteers to handle the myriad details – stack chairs, print programs, handle publicity, bake cookies, administer scholarships, collect fees, etc. New volunteers are always welcome. Volunteer coordinator and parent Laura Witt believes in the program and says that it has given her daughter an opportunity to perform in a welcoming atmosphere.

Asked what she would say to parents considering music lessons for their children, board member and donor Cyndy Stiehl says, “All children are capable of learning to play a stringed instrument, regardless of ‘talent’ or ‘giftedness’ or musical background. Strings can be successfully taught to all kids in all age groups in all settings, and it’s fun!”

“And the goal is not just to make music,” adds board member and parent Jennifer Dahl. “Playing a stringed instrument leads to a lifelong appreciation of all types of music – Gregorian chants to Mozart to the latest pop music. Understanding the theory and structures of music enhances the experience.”

Donor Fran Burton says, “The Door County String Academy provides an important addition to the music programs offered at Door County schools. With scholarships available, string instrument instruction is possible for nearly every child in the county. I am proud to support this program.”

Door County String Academy conducts classes at Hope Church in Sturgeon Bay and is currently accepting students from beginners to advanced. For information, call 920.495.5500 or email [email protected].

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., is a coalition of non-profit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.