By Fred Obee
Kids come trundling to Sybil Wakefields home in Washington Park with fiddles under their arms and Bach and Paganini on their brains.
Popping open their violin cases, tucking fiddles under their chins and pulling their bows across the strings, small fingers search for the perfect note, a sometimes elusive goal for people just learning how to play the violin.
If you dont play for a while, it can sound pretty awful, Wakefield said, letting loose with an easy laugh.
But as painful as the strains of a beginning violinist can be, Wakefield sticks with her students. She knows the music is its own reward, and that there are lessons beyond the notes that will stay with children for a lifetime.
It teaches that no matter how hard something seems at first, if they peck away at it, they will get it, Wakefield said. I do think it imposes a self-discipline that cant hurt them.
Wakefield began her own studies when she was 12. Then, and for most of recorded history, music lessons were an integral part of what was considered a basic education. Children who werent taking piano lessons more than likely were playing the violin.
You considered your friends deprived if they didnt have a piano to practice on, Wakefield said.
In Crescent City in recent years, an attempt to improve the opportunities for young string players has hit a few bumps.
A junior orchestra was formed, but it disbanded a year ago for lack of a director, Wakefield said. And although the schools offer band beginning in the sixth grade and students are given a general introduction to music in elementary schools through song and simple instruments, string players havent had any kind of program since Wakefield retired from teaching first grade in 1985. That effort was an after school violin class at Joe Hamilton Elementary. I used to have 15 or 20 kids, she said.
If she could wave her magic wand, Crescent City would have a full-fledged string program. Classes would begin at the latest in the second grade, and some kind of string ensemble would be formed for kids in elementary school. A string orchestra would be available in junior high, and another orchestra would be active at the high school level. Wakefield estimated it would take at least two full-time teachers to provide such a program.
Wakefields growing student list appears to show that interest in learning to play a violin, viola or cello is on the rise.
I havent ever turned students away. Ive always had 15 to 20 students until this past year. Now I have about 40, she said.
Wakefield doesnt know what the future holds for violinists here, whether other teachers will take up the torch or whether the schools eventually will be able to offer more.
For now, shes just doing what comes naturally. Shes putting violins in the hands of young people because she knows, whether they play Carnegie Hall or whether they keep it up for only a few years, in the end, they will be better people for the experience.
I really love giving lessons, Wakefield said. They are really great kids. They are a great bunch to work with.