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West Linn-Wilsonville Primary Strings Program increases interest with new instruments, music

During the 2016-17 academic year, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District received an extra bump in funding for its strings program that allows students to play instruments like the cello, violin, bass and viola. After receiving almost $43,000 at the primary level, WL-WV primary strings director Nathan Givens has seen it have a direct impact on students.

"That (money) allowed us to buy instruments — lower instruments like the bass — for both (West Linn and Wilsonville) and some cellos," Givens said. "So they can come and use the school instruments here and then keep their other one at home so they don't have to transfer it back and forth. That was huge."

In turn, this has helped increase interest in lower instruments since students don't have to lug their large musical apparatus on the bus.

The WL-WV Primary Strings Program has been district-wide, involving all primary schools for the last six years. Monday and Wednesday practices are for all Wilsonville students at Boeckman Creek Primary and Tuesdays and Thursdays are dedicated to all West Linn students at Cedaroak Park Primary. And then for concerts, the entire district comes together.

"It's really helpful for our numbers and kids feel like they're a part of something bigger," said Givens, adding that he originally pitched the idea of unifying instruction and curriculum so all primary students could start with the same foundation. "Our whole goal is to really send them into middle school being a very confident, capable orchestra player. I think the stronger the primary program is, the more advanced the middle school and high school (programs) can get."

The beginning strings class is taught by Givens' wife, Lori, and Givens teaches second and third year string students. The program currently has about 130-140 students and the orchestra — second and third year students — has about 50 district-wide.

"I love this age because they're all really excited about it so it's a lot of fun," Givens said. "I just feel very fortunate to be in a district that has strings. ... It's fun for me because I started playing strings in this district when I was in fifth grade so it's really fun to help other kids get started. I wouldn't be doing what I do today without having started in that strings class way back when."

Sienna Predeek, Tristan Brester and Kaylee Nickels, violin players from West Linn primary schools, are extremely thankful for the opportunity.

"I wanted to learn how to read notes and play the violin," Nickels said.

And with help from the additional funds, Givens was also able to purchase about 40 new pieces of music for students to explore.

"It's great to get a big selection and focus on different skills and different concepts we are trying to learn before they head to middle school," said Givens, adding that they are currently working on Ukrainian folk songs. "We're also learning some different keys that we haven't played in before so it makes them have to play with different hand shapes."

But for Givens, the ultimate goal will be to find a central school or building where all the primary schools can rehearse together.

"Long-term that's what I would like to see happen," he added.

Wilsonville Spokesman reporter Clara Howell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-636-1281.

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