Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Scaring Up the Best from String Students 

Scaring Up the Best from String Students 

Halloween Concert

A goddess, an entire class from Hogwarts, and the Statue of Liberty playing cellos; several princesses, superheroes, and more wizards on violin — all perform with a crazy cat lady and a knight. These were students performing with their teachers in the Preparatory Young People’s String Program’s (YPSP) annual Halloween concert on October 30.

This concert celebrated the 30th anniversary of the YPSP, started by Rebecca Henry and currently run by Andréa Picard Boecker (MM ’08, Violin). As part of its anniversary, YPSP held a composition competition and presented the premieres of the winning works at the concert: Blackberry Tale for three violins by Conservatory master’s student Ledah Finck (BM ’16, Violin) and Preparatory senior Samuel Lam’s work A Hidden Key for three violins and piano.

Ms. Picard Boecker says the experience was really valuable for the “students to get to work with living composers.” When first rehearsing with the students, Ms. Finck, who minors in composition, was impressed that they had all memorized her piece.

“It was fun writing something that harkened back to my own training and incorporating what I’d learned later in life,” she says. The October performance also included a special narrated musical story presented by the cellists.

The YPSP is for children ages 4 to 14 or until they reach eighth grade. Ms. Picard Boecker describes the program as comprehensive — students take both private lessons and group classes — and says students are “so lucky because they work with all of the faculty.” All the past program directors still teach in the YPSP, including Janet Melnicoff-Brown (MM ’89, Music Education) and Lisa Sadowski.

Ms. Henry adds that the teachers meet, discuss pedagogy, and experiment with new repertoire and teaching ideas. They work with a central curriculum and are “always trying to improve what we do,” she says.

Ms. Henry was hired 30 years ago to raise the level of the Preparatory String Department. She saw the need to start with the younger students and took the best of Suzuki training and ideas from her work with Mimi Zweig at Indiana University Bloomington to build the YPSP.

The youngest students need the “most important fundamental start — a joyful and high-quality grounding”

to their musical training, she says. YPSP graduates are then able to move on to various ensemble options at the Preparatory, including chamber music, orchestra, or the Performance Academy for Strings.

Ms. Henry, who serves as the Scott Bendann Faculty Chair in Classical Music, also teaches pedagogy in the Conservatory, and several of the current teachers in the YPSP have come out of her pedagogy class.

The 30th anniversary celebration represents what it took to build a string program — a program that now includes the Performance Academy for Strings and the Pre-Conservatory Violin Program. Those programs couldn’t happen without younger students playing at a high level, and that took 20 years, says Ms. Henry.

— Margaret Bell