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Before the start of the school year, Loachapoka Elementary School lacked a structured music program for its students. These days, interest and participation in music at the school have blossomed to such a degree that instructors encountered an unexpected problem.
"This year we ran out of violins," said Lisa Caravan, an assistant professor of music education in Auburn University's Department of Curriculum and Teaching and director of the Tiger Strings outreach program. "We had to buy new violins because so many people wanted to participate."
Tiger Strings, a university, school and community outreach program started in 2009 by Kimberly Walls and Kathy King in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, offers music education to students in the community. Co-sponsored by the Department of Curriculum and Teaching in the College of Education, the Department of Music in the College of Liberal Arts and a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the program has two components: the first is the Tiger Strings Orchestra, which is made up of approximately 50 children in the area; the second is the Loachapoka After School Project, which provides beginner and advanced violin classes to Loachapoka Elementary School students.
"It started out as one string orchestra. We had a vision for a bigger program, and it's grown since then," said Kathy King, a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching and cofounder of the Tiger Strings program.
The program now consists of four orchestras, serving grades 2-12, along with the after school program, which meets twice a week.
Along with the growth in the number of orchestras, the school's participation level has increased as well. The Tiger Strings after school program offers several events throughout the year. For the past two years, the after school program students have performed at Loachapoka's annual Syrup Sopping Day. Eight students participated the first time, but 20 students performed last fall.
The Tiger Strings after school program students also performed a side-by-side concert with the Tiger Strings Orchestra. The community youth orchestra, which develops the talents of Auburn school musicians in grades 2-12, played individual pieces and a final collaboration with the after school program called "Guest Soloist."
"We got shirts for the kids and it felt like we were really connecting these two groups," Caravan said. "Our hope is that one day the Loachapoka kids will be involved in the orchestra."
The after school program performed a concert with a mariachi band for the first time last May. Due to the success of the event, and after receiving a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Tiger Strings after school group will perform with the mariachi band again in April.
The busy schedule of events and after school practice helps Tiger Strings raise awareness of string playing in the area.
"We're hoping to keep advocating string playing in the area," King said. "A need we have right now is more string teachers. A lot of kids want string teachers, but this town doesn't have enough. I would love to see strings taught in the schools."
Caravan and King are already looking toward the future with hopes of involving more string instruments, such as the viola, cello or bass, and even having an after school program at another school. In addition to instilling a love of music in elementary and secondary students, such an expansion would provide additional professional development opportunities for pre-service teachers.
"At the university I'm working on rebuilding the string program," Caravan said. "We'd love to have string music education majors here to be able to work in these different situations so they're gaining real-life, practical experience in how to teach these kids."
"Our overall goal is to prepare school string music teachers," said Kimberly Walls, professor and head of the Department of Curriculum and Teaching and cofounder of the Tiger Strings program. "It's been a lifelong desire of mine for Auburn to have a string music education program and for the schools to offer orchestra because it reaches a different student. Some children really respond to singing; some are really interested in instruments, but the string instruments are very different from the band instruments, and appeal to a different mode of thinking and way of making music that's really important."
With all the future hopes and plans, the main goal of the Tiger Strings after school program involves providing an outlet for string music students who might not otherwise receive one.
"We went back this week to Loachapoka Elementary and the kids didn't think we were coming back," Caravan said. "That's how much they look forward to it. They absolutely love it."
"Music for everyone," King added. "I would have to say that would be my motto. I want everyone to be able to have this opportunity."
Last Updated: Apr. 8, 2013