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Music to Their Ears: Florence 1 Gets Violin Program Funding

By: Gavin Jackson FLORENCE, South Carolina, October 05, 2011 - Florence School District 1 received $5,000 from First Reliance Bank and the Florence Breakfast Rotary Club with 112 strings attached. The district will be buying 28 new violins (which have four strings each) to split between Lester Elementary School third-graders and Dewey L. Carter Elementary School sixth-graders, allowing each student in the classes to have access to a violin without the need of having students purchase or rent them. "Many children here don't have the opportunity to get a violin," First Reliance Bank Community Development Officer Joan Billheimer said. Since the program’s start, Billheimer said, she has seen an impact. "We saw an appreciation from the parents. We got letters from the parents who said they could never afford a violin for their child," she said. First Reliance Bank has been the main sponsor of this program since its inception and original partnership with Honda of South Carolina Manufacturing Inc. that has now shifted to the Florence Breakfast Rotary Club, which matched the bank’s $2,500 donation. "There wouldn't be a program here if it weren’t for the grant," said Allen Johnson, strings band instructor at Savannah Grove and Timrod elementary schools. "The schools have always offered a strings program but it's always been very small, so now we’re able to offer it to fifth-graders as well as sixth-graders and since kids don’t have to buy the instruments it makes it a lot easier for them to participate." Johnson offers violin lessons at both schools once a week, which is crucial for schools that don't have dedicated string band faculty. Timrod teacher Joy Hilton, who assists Johnson during class time, said she has been thrilled with the program that has been at the school for two years. "We want to have lifelong musicians and lifelong appreciation (of music)," Hilton said. Into their third class this year, 15 students gathered in Hilton’s classroom Wednesday afternoon — some with their violins in tow and others taking them from a cart — for their weekly lesson from Johnson. Students have the option of taking violins home for additional practice. The class started off with a reminder of the notes and a refresher on songs. Johnson continued instruction with other songs and at one point said they were “good enough for an orchestra.” The fifth- and sixth-grade students, while still learning, played several beginner songs that many of their band peers play on their clarinets, flutes and other instruments. "If nothing else, we want to offer these students the opportunity to play an instrument," Florence 1 Performing Arts Coordinator Laura Greenway said. Some students stick with the violin or string instruments, but Johnson said many move on to band instruments in sixth-grade and middle school. But he said the training they receive on string instruments helps them just as much. “You still have the idea of how music works, how to read music and the coordination between fingers and brain,” Johnson said. Despite what looks like a difficult instrument, students said they look forward to class. "It has a beautiful sound," sixth-grader Nyaysia Young said of her violin at the end of class. "I want to play an instrument that has a challenge."

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