Pawling’s Growing Strings Program Hits the Right Note
When Pawling Central School District’s Orchestra Director Joseph MacEachen began his second year leading the strings program this fall, he didn’t expect any of his novice students to take to the stage. He was pleasantly surprised, however, when he was proven wrong.
Fourth grade students Reina Buonora, Ellie Cole and Dani Moore-Lewis took it upon themselves to show off their brand-new skills during a performance as “The Little Heartstrings” at the district-wide talent show in December – not only representing the first-ever Pawling strings student performance, but also placing third in their age group.
“I was so proud of those students for how brave they were and how much they put into it when they’ve only been playing their instruments for one year,” said MacEachen. “Frankly, I was blown away that they even wanted to try. It was the first time the strings program got exposure in the school and it was a great public introduction to what we’ve been working on.”
Viola player Ellie smiled broadly as she recounted the feeling of performing with her instrument for the very first time.
“It was a little scary but it was also really fun,” she said. “We couldn’t believe that we had actually gotten third place! I was really proud.”
Ellie’s mother Courtney Cole praised the strings program.
“Ellie really looks forward to playing her viola and it’s been great to watch her learn and grow,” she said. “As parents we look for ways to expose our kids to different experiences at every level, and it’s awesome that the district offers strings instruction to them so young. It gives them a chance to explore new interests and develop skills that they’d never had the chance to otherwise.”
The advent of Pawling Central School District’s new strings program marked a historic milestone for the district in December of 2022. Now in its second year, the program is gaining momentum as it continues to offer musical opportunities for students in grades three through six under MacEachen’s guidance – and the school community is taking notice.
“We’ve had so much interest from students and support from families in the past year and a half,” he said. “We currently have 65 students in the program and from what I see, it’s just going to keep growing.”
As the program is still in its infancy, students are learning basics and familiarizing themselves with their instruments. MacEachen’s goals for the initial stages of the program were to introduce students to stringed instruments including the violin, viola and cello – and, as a cello player himself, MacEachen also focuses on encouraging students to develop a love and appreciation of stringed instruments and music in general.
Currently the sole strings educator in the district, MacEachen said that he has been collaborating closely with school administrators to offer students as much instruction as possible.
“It’s a challenge because I’m only one person and there are so many students, but we try to get everyone as much face time with me as possible,” he said. “Right from the start I encourage students to practice at home because what they put into it is what they’ll get out of it, and many of them take that to heart.”
To address the scheduling challenges that come with any new program, elementary students in grades three and four enjoy lessons during the school day while middle school musicians are offered classes after school. MacEachen has also gotten creative with providing new experiences to his students – such as a field trip to Dover High School in December to see the Vivaldi Project, a group of professional musicians who have traveled the country and offer masterclasses and workshops to young musicians. His goal was to let the students see what an ensemble looks like and learn how a sense of community can be forged through music.
MacEachen is optimistic about the program's next steps and envisions a credit-bearing ensemble in the middle school, providing students with a preview of what could lie ahead as they progress through their musical journey. Pawling Middle School Principal Megan Gleason said that the district isn’t far off – she hopes to see his vision come to fruition as soon as this fall.
“We love the strings program here; all that it offers to students who participate is so valuable.” she said. “Everything from learning to play a new instrument with proper posture to the social emotional learning that comes with developing confidence in playing and performing is invaluable.
“Our music teachers work so closely and support one another in wonderful ways, and by adding a strings ensemble to our daily schedule we’re really enhancing the whole department,” she continued. “We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to include string instruction in the students’ school schedule in the upcoming school year.”
Pawling Superintendent Kim Fontana said that she looks forward to seeing the strings program grow in the district and stressed the importance of offering students expanded music education experiences.
“In a world in which so many things quickly come and go and students can get used to instant gratification, learning to make music with an instrument that has not changed much in centuries – requiring the same dedication today as it did for Vivaldi himself – is a special endeavor,” said Fontana. “From the practice of that discipline come lifetime rewards that transcend music.
“I am so proud of our students and grateful for all the staff, the Board of Education and parents who joined me in the leap of faith that a very small district like Pawling could give students this opportunity.”