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Wednesday, 15 April 2015 13:30

Ensemble helps to keep string playing alive in Swift Current area

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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For more than a decade the activities of a string ensemble in Swift Current has been making a difference to keep string playing alive in the area.

Violin teacher Celia Hammerton started the group String ‘N Things in 2004 after moving to Swift Current the previous year.
“The reason I do the string group is because of the value of playing together,” she said. “There’s a lot of value in being in a group. Some are obvious, like building relationships, building team work. When you play with others you work as a team, you build friendships, it’s fun.”
She added participation in an ensemble improves the listening skills of students because they have to listen to the other players. It also helps students with their self confidence, because they feel more comfortable to play in a group.
“Often students are reluctant to perform on their own because it’s out of their comfort zone but when they’re in a group that builds their self confidence,” she said. “I think just as a general thing it teaches discipline and perseverance. When you learn solo that teaches those skills alone but when you’re in a group you have to practice together. That comes back to the listening, because there’s completely different skills involved. ... You have to learn to listen to each other and the different parts and understand what’s going on with everybody else in the group.”
The group is called String ‘N Things because other instruments were sometimes part of their performances during the early years.
“Now we’re mostly strings but we have the odd thing,” she laughed. “That would be a flute part or a woodwind part maybe or sometimes percussion.”
During those initial years the group had more advanced players, but that has changed and the ensemble now has a variety of skill levels.
“I’ve gradually introduced more and more younger players to it,” Hammerton said. “The benefits of that are that they get the experience of the older students in the group and the older kids get the experience of leadership and leading and helping the younger kids.”
The different skill levels of the string players present an interesting challenge for Hammerton when she selects musical pieces for performance by the group.
“One of my goals will be to choose pieces that the students really enjoy playing and then connected to that is finding something that serves several abilities,” she said.
In addition to finding a piece of music with easier parts she will adapt or rewrite some of the parts to be more suitable for the more inexperienced members of the group.
“A lot of the string music and orchestral music sometimes have an easy violin part written into it,” she said. “So I have enough parts there that I can find parts that work.”
For the group’s participation in the 2015 Swift Current & District Music Festival, which took place in March, she selected two Irish folk songs.
“This time I have chosen an advanced solo part so that I can bring an advanced player in to play with the students and I have adapted some of the violin parts for the younger students so that they can play them,” Hammerton said. “Another thing that I find is that by playing with the older students from the outset, the younger students are gaining skills in terms of playing longer pieces of music.”
The advanced solo part was performed by former group member Austin Castle, who was one of her first violin students after she moved to Swift Current.
The annual music festival is a highlight on the group’s calender and the preparation provides a lesson in discipline and focus to the students.
“It teaches discipline, it teaches practice, it teaches what it takes to prepare something to be a good performance,” she said. “I think it’s good for students to experience the performance aspect of it and what you have to do to get to that top notch performance.”
On a general level she considers the music festival to be an important community event for musicians in the Swift Current area.
“It’s a great community event that brings together musicians in the community,” Hammerton said. “I think it’s a great way for students to get some constructive criticism from adjudicators and to share with other students in the community their musical skills. It’s really to me a celebration of music of all kinds.”
String ‘N Things will have a number of other performances during a year, including one or two in the fall, an appearance at the annual Melodies of Christmas, a year-end recital and a fiddle workshop in the summer.
Although string music is often associated with classical music, the instruments can be used to play a variety of music. She considers the summer workshops with well-known fiddlers Gordon Stobbe and JJ Guy to be an important way to introduce ensemble members to Saskatchewan’s fiddling culture.
“I think it’s good for these kids to experience some of that and to do their bit to keep it alive,” she said.
Hammerton will continue to promote string playing in the Swift Current area through her work as a violin teacher and the activities of the string ensemble.
“I just think it’s a really positive thing for the students,” she said. “It’s a life skill, and my hope would be that they would continue to play and they would continue to enjoy playing in whatever way it takes them, be it on their own or be it they get to university and they join a band or they join an orchestra.”

Read 3974 times Last modified on Thursday, 16 April 2015 10:13