MASON COUNTY — The strings education program in Mason County Schools may just be finding its feet, but it has been more than 20 years in the making.
Foundations were laid for the program in 1987, by Ohio Valley Symphony (OVS) founding member Lora Lynn Snow.
“When I started OVS, I called Ray Fowler [OVS Maestro] and the first thing he said was ‘we’ve got to have a strings program in the schools,’” said Snow.
So Snow approached the Gallia County Schools first, offering to pay for an instructor. Southwestern Elementary took her up on the offer, and OVS also maintained a youth orchestra group over the years with a variety of teachers.
All of this has been entwined with the Ariel Theatre, Snow said, and closely connected to the OVS.
On Thursday the first round of strings classes were offered in Point Pleasant Primary School and Point Pleasant Intermediate School.
A grant for $6,500 has provided a start for the beginning strings program with a view to setting up a school orchestra over the next few years.
Suzanne Dickens, superintendent for the county schools, said that the grant came from Mason County Community Foundation and the Jackson Foundation. The money will enable around 20 students initially to take group violin and viola lessons.
Dickens said that Point Pleasant Primary and Point Pleasant Intermediate Schools applied for the grant and were awarded funds, after which those schools sent home fliers to all of their first through sixth grade students. The students and their parents were invited to attend an informational meeting, and watch and listen to a demonstration of the instruments.
Dickens added that she hopes the program will eventually expand to encompass all the county schools.
The grant included money to contract an instructor, Ian Jessee. Jessee, a long-time member of the Ohio Valley Symphony, currently teaches in the Kanawha County Schools, where he and his students have won multiple awards.
Jessee said that from his point of view the first classes were a success.
“We had a great first class,” Jessee said. “Everyone was so excited!”
Snow added that yesterday’s classes represent only the beginning of what she hopes will be a growing educational opportunity in Mason County.
“I’ve taught classes from kindergarten to graduate level, and being here in Gallia County has formed a basis for my philosophy. I found that kids weren’t being exposed to fine music. But if you bring it to them, they’ll love it.
“This is the starter program in Mason County, and we’ll be going from there.”
It hasn’t happened overnight, Snow said, and it’s an ongoing effort.
“It’s a pretty momentous occasion,” Snow concluded.