Butteville Elementary students 'stringing along'

Skye Kinkade
Fourth graders Isabella Brandt and Haley McClure said they enjoy playing the violin as part of Butteville Elementary School’s new strings program.

When Olivia Brandt saw Yo-Yo Ma play the cello on a television show last year, she was captivated. So it was an easy choice for the eighth grader to select an instrument when she heard Butteville Elementary was expanding its music program five months ago.

“I like being able to play for my family,” Olivia said with a grin. She’ll do more than that on Thursday, when she and the other Butteville Elementary School musicians perform in their first concert as part of the school’s Open House.

The strings program, along with a band program and a K-8 honor choir, was started this year with a $10,000 grant from the McConnell Fund and  $10,000 in matching funds raised during an Art Auction and Wine Tasting event last year.

“It was my goal to get these programs running when I came to Butteville,” said superintendent/principal Todd Clark, who wrote the grant proposal and organized the Art Auction with the help of the Butteville Parent Teacher Association.

“We were able to purchase $8,000 worth of string instruments and $2,000 worth of band instruments to supplement those we already had,” Clark said last week. The other $10,000 was used to hire instructors.

Butteville teacher Therese Condit is running the strings program, Clark said.

“She’s doing a fantastic job... she has a Masters degree from Harvard, and the work she’s doing is exceptional,” said Clark.

Mark Russell is teaching the band and choir classes, which include a K-4 honor choir and a 5-8 honor choir.

“It’s a concept you rarely see with little children,” Clark said. “What Mark is doing is great. These children have the natural ability to sing and vocalize... they’re all talented.”

In order to be on the honors choir, Clark said the children had to try out, and they also have to keep their grades up.

Clark, who has a strong background in the arts, came to Butteville Elementary from Buckeye School of the Arts in Redding. This is his first year at Butteville Elementary.

Clark said his eventual  goal is to develop a Butteville Orchestra. He also wants to focus energy on other artistic venues, including traditional art, drama and dance.

“Arts give children a venue to feel successful,” Clark said. “By supporting the arts, we’re giving students a different way to feel connected to their school.”

Since beginning her cello lessons, Olivia said she believes her math skills have improved, maybe because she’s using parts of her brain  she never had the opportunity to use before.

“I really glad to have this opportunity,” Olivia said.

Eighth grader Mary Longworth said knowing how to play a musical instrument “opens a lot of doors.”

“You have a lot of bigger chances when you can play,” said Mary, who has played the fiddle for five years, and is helping Condit teach the class.

Fourth grader Natalie Hougen picked up the violin for the first time in January. She loves to play and will definitely continue next year.

Fellow fourth graders Haley McClure and Isabella Brandt also said they’ll continue their lessons. They said they decided to play because they like Condit and wanted to spend more time with her.

They particularly like “Old MacDonald” and “Boiling the Cabbage Down” and are looking forward to performing the songs for their fellow students, family and friends on Thursday. They’ve been practicing like crazy, they said, but they must play in their rooms, because their dogs often howl along.

Currently, there are 35 students in the choir, 18 in band and 20 in the strings program – more than a third of Butteville’s student body of 175.  Clark said he hopes as the years go by the music program will continue to flourish.

Butteville Elementary School students Marko Luquin, Ian Wharton and D’Angelo Stewart practice on the trombone, saxophone and trumpet last week at Butteville Elementary School. They’ll hold their first performance during their school’s Open House on Thursday evening.