Marjorie Newman watched the 1999 movie, “Music of the Heart,” which is the true story of Roberta Guaspari, who started a string program in Harlem. “If they can do that in New York City, we can do that in Columbus,” Newman said at Wynnton Academy.
She started talking, to anyone who would listen, about creating a string program in the elementary schools.
At the Schwob School of Music, director Fred Cohen, was talking about a similar program with his faculty.
Then Sam and Jacquie Rawls talked to Cohen and donated money toward such a program. They donated the money in memory of James Sullivan, a Columbus physician who died in October. Sullivan attended Wynnton Elementary.
Within a month, they had a location, instructors, violins and bows and 18 students. Newly retired Schwob School of Music professors Betty Anne and Manuel Díaz agreed to put their travel plans on hold to teach the students. The program runs for an hour a day, Monday-Thursday during the school year. It began Oct. 20. Wynnton Academy’s principal, Nancy Johnson, sent a letter explaining the program to the parents of every third, fourth and fifth grade student. She got so many positive responses that a lottery was held to pick six students from each grade. “I kept hoping I would be chosen,” said Catoria Collier, a 10-year-old fifth grader. I made it.” She was sitting with three other fifth graders, Lenora Frinks, Anju Shajan and Shadoneé Hayes. All four girls are excited about learning to play violin. They also like their instructors. Asked the difference between teaching college-aged students and elementary students, Manuel Díaz said he was prepared for the challenge. He and his wife had taught in a music academy in Atlanta before coming to Columbus. “But we did not have 18 students at the same time,” he said. “It’s refreshing,” Betty Anne Díaz said. “This is something I should be doing.” Three of their four children are professional musicians — Roberto is a violist and president of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Andrés is a cellist and professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and violinist Gabriela, who teaches in Boston and performs internationally. Betty Anne Díaz is hoping that all three will come and teach at Wynnton Academy. “Gabby is so excited,” Betty Anne Díaz said. Thomas Hines, a 10-year-old fifth grader, had never picked up a violin before Oct. 20. “My brother was into it,” he said. “I’m very excited. I’m planning on doing this.” He hopes to keep playing next year in middle school. Lisa Frinks, Lenora’s mother, loves the program. “I always had an interest in music, but my parents were more academically based,” she said. “I think this is a great start. She seems to enjoy it. She comes home every day talking about the program.”
Another happy parent is C. Alexander, whose daughter, Faith, 8, is one of the younger students. Faith is in the third grade.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Alexander said. “She enjoys it.”
Alexander goes to almost every performance by the Wynnton Academy students.
The school is the arts magnet in Columbus and features dance, art, music and drama classes. Add violin to its first after-school programming.
Wynnton Academy is the first fine arts charter school in the state. It was approved as a charter school in June, Johnson said.
Other after-school programs that Johnson hopes will be funded are for dance, music and art. She’s submitted her budget and hopes the Muscogee County School District will approve it soon.