Music in the Air: Holyoke Summer String Program Comes to Northampton

NORTHAMPTON, MA-A bus pulled into Northampton from Holyoke yesterday, carrying with it 30 half-size cellos and violins, and the area's youngest talent to play their fifth concert of the summer outside of Northampton's City Hall. Before picking up their instruments, however, the Holyoke Summer String program performed "Up Above My Head," a Capella.

Supported mainly by Friends of Holyoke Public Schools, the Summer String program is a non-profit, cost-free summer camp comprised of roughly 30 pre-k through eighth grade students. The camp, which now lasts five hours a day, four days a week all through the summer, has expanded to include yoga, arts and crafts and of course, music lessons.

Through group lessons and a "modified Suzuki approach," the program teaches its young students how to play the viola, the violin or the cello, through listening and language, eventually adding note reading as part of the curriculum.

"Everyone has a prior knowledge of music, I think. Even if they are listening to pop music, you're still getting an understanding of time and beat," said Jenifer Gelineau, the director of the Summer Strings Program for over six years. Gelineau has been playing violin herself for over 20 years.

"I think a lot of people are drawn to strings because it has a really warm, comfortable sound, and especially when you are dealing with youth in urban areas that might also be at risk, it's a really great way to get an instant success. The minute they draw their bow against the string they are given a reward. They succeed every time."

The group played to a growing crowd outside of City Hall, made up of some parents, but mostly enchanted passersby. Featured songs included "Hot Cross Buns," "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and "French Folk Song." The students bowed in unison after each number.

"It's really amazing. I always say there's something in the water in Holyoke because all of kids do really well. It doesn't make sense that they are able to learn as quickly as they do," said Gelineau.


Staff video by Joanna Pasiecnik