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The Strings Program: MSO's commitment to youth

By Staff
Editor's note: As part of Meridian Symphony Orchestra's 40th Anniversary Commemorative Series, a "behind the scenes" look is provided through a series of articles. The following article profiles the strength and success of Meridian Public Schools' Strings Program.
By Sarah Mutziger/Special to the Star
Feb. 11, 2001
The alliance between the Meridian Public School District and Meridian Symphony Orchestra began some 40 years ago and continues to be a dynamic and vital force in the community. Next week, two children's concerts will be presented for all fourth graders in Meridian and Lauderdale County, including home schoolers as well as the public and private schools. For many, this will be their first experience of live symphonic music. As a result, some of these children will elect to participate in the school's Strings Program next year.
What is the Strings Program?
Students in all city public schools from fifth through 12th grades may elect to study and learn to play a stringed instrument. This includes violin, viola, cello and string bass.
They have this opportunity year after year and some students take full advantage. Meridian has produced and is producing extraordinary talented, trained, skilled musicians. No child is excluded from the program. Those who cannot afford an instrument are funded for one by a special endowment started by Dorothy Learner and perpetuated by further funding from Rosa Emmons and Jeanne Phillips. Any citizen seeking to support music education can participate in this fashion.
How did the program come to be?
The Strings Program had come and gone until 1984 when Dr. George Cannon, superintendent of education at the time, became committed to reinstating it. He asked Jeanne Phillips, director of elementary education at the time, to make it happen.
Phillips asked Rosa Emmons, an elementary school music teacher about to retire, to design and implement a program. Emmons, who is also a violinist, did her homework, which included studying Suzuki teaching methods and securing grant funding from the Mississippi Arts Council. The program was born and blossomed with such success, it received additional funding from the Meridian Arts Council and won awards across the state for its excellence.
Early on, Emmons recruited Charles Munoz, a Meridian Symphony Orchestra cellist, to teach with her. Munoz had studied under Suzuki in Japan. The two joined forces and brought a vast combination of musical talent and educational skills into the Meridian classroom.
Over the years, the program has evolved through the hands of great teachers and concert-level players. Vernon Raines, founding conductor of the MSO, recruited Dick and Billy Brown. They, in turn, recruited Brian and Debbie Gum. Jackie Perry and Virginia Baumgardner were also recruited and added to the high caliber of musical instruction.
The Gums departed last summer. Their very big musical shoes are now filled by Munoz who is returning gracefully to teach again and Amy Massengale, an MSO cellist and harpist. Both expressed a profound commitment to the children and the Strings Program.
Why do we have a Strings Program?
It starts at the top. I interviewed Superintendent Dr. Janet McLin and she answered the question.
Who's Who in the Meridian Public Schools Strings Program
All of the students are shining stars. However, one in particular deserves to be singled out and recognized for his extraordinary level of development.
Clayton Vaughn, a junior at Meridian High School, currently performs professionally as a concert cellist in both the Meridian and Tupelo symphonies. Vaughn started with the cello in the fifth grade. Yes, he has outgrown the Strings Program. He continues his studies privately under Dieter Wulfhorst, principal cellist for the MSO.
The following comments are from my interview with Vaughn:
In addition to his music, Clayton also plays soccer, hunts, works out and maintains a 3.7 grade-point-average. He says he doesn't yet know what he will study in college, if not a major in music, then at least a minor.
The Strings Program is filled with students who praise the experience and express gratitude. Here are just a few of them:
The Meridian Symphony Orchestra salutes Meridian Public Schools' Strings Program: The students, the teachers, the school board and Dr. Janet McLin.
Bravo for vision, hard work, commitment and excellence.
Sarah Mutziger is a member of the Meridian Symphony Orchestra board.

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