DOWNTOWN —Santa Monican Adelaide Lloyd started playing the violin in the orchestra program, called Elemental Strings, in the middle of the fourth grade at John Adams Middle School. She remembers feeling nervous.
Elemental Strings is offered by a local nonprofit of the same name, which tries to get elementary school students excited about playing instruments so they keep it up in middle school and high school.
“It was really nerve racking,” Lloyd said. “Then, I really liked orchestra better than practicing by myself.”
Now an eighth grader at JAMS, Lloyd said it’s the “best orchestra experience” she ever had because “there’s a huge sense of community and you feel really close with the other people.”
Students who love music or want or play the cello, violin, flute or percussion can audition in the first week of October for a new program Elemental Strings is offering this year: Elemental Band. The nonprofit is also inviting students to audition for all of its programs including Elemental Strings, which is opening up auditions for third graders this year. The last day to sign up for an audition is Sept. 30.
Elemental Strings, an affiliate of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District that supports the district’s music programs, is entering its 10th season.
Lloyd’s mother, Grace Phillips, also has a son in fourth grade at JAMS who is playing the clarinet in Elemental Strings this year. Phillips is hoping to put him in Elemental Band next year. Another son used to play in the orchestra program.
“As soon as they got into the orchestra setting, they just took off,” said Phillips, who encourages friends to get their kids involved as well. “They really loved it. And it had social meaning once they had a group to do it with.”
Word of mouth has been integral in the music program’s growth, said Josephine Liu Moerschel, executive and artistic director of Elemental Strings.
The music program has grown tremendously over the past nine years, going from 25 students to more than 100. Growth has also come in the form of adding a second orchestra program and the Prelude Program, which is designed for beginning string students who have no previous experience playing their instruments.
Officials say the students come out of the program with more confidence and skills, in addition to learning how to play an instrument. They also learn how to budget their time.
“They are learning how to work together as a team, really building communication amongst themselves,” Moerschel said.
There’s something new for students who are in band this year. Elemental Band will be a parallel program for the local band students, who will rehearse for two hours every week.
Moerschel said they’re still taking auditions from fourth and fifth graders to be part of the band program. So far, 40 kids have signed up.
Elemental Strings will also offer two new elective classes that are purely voluntary and six weeks long. The two classes — one on fiddle tunes and one called “Bucket Band” — delve into a more specific aspect of music style. Bucket Band gives kids the opportunity to play music using buckets, chairs and their own bodies.
“It’s really interactive and really fun and lively for kids and what they don’t realize while they’re doing it, they’re working on their listening and rhythm skills,” Moerschel said.
The fiddle class will take place in the private studio of the instructor in West Los Angeles, while the Bucket Band will take place at JAMS. The Prelude Program takes place at McKinley Elementary School.
The budget for Elemental Strings is made up of tuition students pay for the entire year, which is $750, individual donations and grant money from places like City Hall and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. The program offers financial aid to families who qualify.
A lot of the staff members work in the school district. There are at least 16 teachers in the various music programs, according to the Elemental Strings website.
Kirsten Bersch, who has taught music for the past nine years at all of the SMMUSD elementary schools, said kids who are part of the Elemental Strings and Band don’t just learn how to play music.
“We talk about history and fractions, how the rhythm in music and the divisions in the measure can be expressed in fraction,” Bersch said. “What’s been great about Elemental Strings, the students who attend, not only do they improve but they also bring their enthusiasm in the class.”
There’s also a mentor program in place where high school students volunteer to teach free, private lessons to youngsters.
“They’re getting one-on-one time with an experienced high school student who wants to be able to make a difference in someone’s life,” Moerschel said.
For more information on auditions and Elemental Strings, visit elementalstrings.com.