Strings School Days program returns virtually for its 14th year
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — January is National Mentoring Month, and Strings Music Festival is highlighting the work of artists who are participating in its Strings School Days program, which allows local students to connect with musicians across the globe.
The free program, now in its 14th year, serves over 3,000 students in grades kindergarten through 12th in 14 different schools throughout three counties.
Traditionally, the Strings School Days program involves a group or an artist that visits a music class at a local school to work with students and teach them a piece of music. Throughout the year, students and artists work together virtually to practice the piece and ideally, the program culminates in a joint performance with the group or artist and the students at Strings Music Pavilion.
During the pandemic, the program had to pivot slightly, Strings Marketing Director Greg Hamilton explained, but its key principles remained the same.
“One of the goals of the program is to increase confidence and self-esteem in students by connecting them with professional musicians, giving them a chance to interact and perform with them,” Hamilton said.
This year, the band Beauty Slap worked with Steamboat Springs High School Jazz Band members in November, coaching students on style and improvisation as it relates to the music they are currently learning in class.
“This program is something that students look forward to and remember year after year,” said Ryan Seyedian, director of bands at the high school. “It is a unique opportunity to meet and work with professional musicians. Due to COVID-19, it looked a little different this year, but everyone involved worked hard to create a high-quality, engaging experience for the SSHS Jazz Band.”
In April, Beauty Slap will do another mentorship with students in Moffat County.
At Emerald Mountain School, middle school orchestra students are currently being mentored by Finnegan Blue, a folk band from San Diego that blends traditional folk with rock, bluegrass, Irish, gospel, reggae and more. The group is coaching students on a song that will culminate in a video performance with the students and the band.
And finally, pianist Alpin Hong spent several virtual weeks in November with seventh-grade band members at Steamboat Springs Middle School. He shared his own composition with students and then provided live critique as the band performed for him. His virtual coaching will continue at multiple schools in February, including Moffat County High School concert and jazz bands and Soroco middle school and high school bands.
“Each program is unique, custom-tailored by us and the artists to be the best fit to deliver on our mission for different age groups,” Hamilton said. “We’ve relied on the artists’ skill sets to guide their virtual residencies.”
While typically the Strings School Days program would see artists visiting the students in person several times throughout the year, COVID has currently rendered that impossible. Students this year will spend anywhere from three weeks to two months working virtually with the musicians when normally the program would span four to six months. But even with many changes, the pillars of the program remain the same.
“Oftentimes, mentorship can be very underappreciated,” Hamilton explained. “But now, it’s more important than ever. Our goal at Strings has always been to support education and bring content.
“What we’re known for is bringing world class performers to a small mountain town,” he added. “And we’re still doing that, just in a different way right now.”
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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