Heralded by musicians and educators throughout the world as one of the finest programs for the training of teachers and the development of young talent, the University of Texas String Project is sponsored by the Butler School of Music at The University of Texas and partially sponsored by the Junior League of Austin. It has received many national awards, including the First Education Institution Award for being the most significant program in strings among American universities and colleges and was named 2008 String Project of the Year by the National String Project Consortium. Thousands of people are playing string instruments today because of the far-reaching effects of the UT String Project, which has served as a nationwide example for the training of teachers and young string players. Attracting university students from almost every state and many foreign countries, the String Project has prepared string teachers who upon graduation have founded, developed, or expanded string programs in public schools, taught in universities, established private studios, or played in symphony orchestras. Many of these began their string study as children in the String Project. The idea of the String Project came about in the years following World War II when an acute shortage of string players became apparent. In 1948 Dr. William E. Doty, founding Dean of the College of Fine Arts, listened to and supported Albert Gillis’ idea of tackling the problem head-on by developing an imaginative program for the preparation of string teachers. Together they founded the Junior String Project and Professor Gillis became the director, a position he held for the first 10 years. Eight years after its founding, the program was renamed the University of Texas String Project. Professor Phyllis Young joined the staff in its fifth year and began directing in 1958. She was involved with the University of Texas String Project for 41 years, directing it for 35 of those years. In the fall of 2002, Dr. Laurie Scott became the director of the University of Texas String Project.
The String Project’s faculty are students at the University of Texas at Austin’s Butler School of Music. Most are graduate students, although qualified undergraduates may be teachers in our program as well. Most of our teachers are students of music education, although many are performance majors interested in becoming excellent teachers as well. Our faculty have a wide range of backgrounds and experiences as teachers and performers; to find out more about specific teachers, view the list on our Faculty page. Dr. Laurie Scott, Associate Professor of Music and Human Learning, directs, supervises, and mentors the String Project’s teachers.
Our Preschool Program is a two-year program using the Suzuki Method and is open to four- and five-year-old beginners. All students who begin an instrument with the String Project while in this age range participate in the Preschool Program, regardless of their actual school experience. Preschool students all begin on violin and cello. Parents of students interested in viola or bass should not be dissuaded from joining the Preschool Program, as the early start to music instruction will only help build a thorough base of music skills, and transition to another instrument in a few years is very feasible. Parents and students practice together and both attend all classes, lessons, and other activities. Students and parents together attend one half-hour group class on Saturdays. During the week, preschool students attend one class with their “pod,” a small group of students who take a group lesson together regularly. Preschool families also have one half-hour private lesson each week. In the initial stages of our Preschool Program, as is usual in Suzuki instruction, parents will learn the instrument along with their children in order to serve as the “home teacher.” As the students grow older, their attention spans lengthen, and their repertoire of skills and tunes increase, the majority of lesson time will shift from training parents in the skills to be taught and monitored at home to directly working with the student. For more information on the Suzuki Method, visit the Suzuki Association of the Americas website.
The Regular Program encompasses all of our students not in the Preschool Program. Most of our students are full-time, taking part in both our Saturday classes and weekly private lessons with a member of our faculty; we also offer Saturday-only status for students who already have a private teacher and want to participate in our program. Students’ schedules for Saturday classes are dependent upon their level of experience. Beginning students take one-hour heterogenous classes in which students of all instruments learn together. Once students have gotten a grounding on their instruments and have learned several songs, they can join our Beginning Ensembles, instrument-specific group classes. Once students are ready, they can move from our Beginning Ensembles into Elementary Orchestra and from there into other orchestras. Orchestra students participate additionally in Technique and Repertoire class as well as their orchestra. All students in the regular program also attend a class in our Musicianship sequence, classes that cover such topics as music reading, music theory, ear training, improvisation, and music history, among others. Guidelines for exactly which ensemble or orchestra a prospective student could expect to be placed in can be found here. These guidelines are the same that current students follow when attempting to move from one ensemble or orchestra to the next in a promotional jury. The guidelines are based on the Suzuki Method repertoire, but literature of comparable level (of similar difficulty, and demonstrating approximately the same skills) can be substituted; scales, arepeggios, and other requirements should be performed as listed on the promotional guidelines. Also note that, in addition to a list of repertoire and exercises that vary by level, students’ success in moving from one level to another, and especially in joining the program, depends on proper setup and technique as outlined in our technique and posture checklists.
As described above, our Preschool Program is a discreet program for children aged four and five, while our Pre-Ensembles are heterogenous classes for older beginners and our Beginning Ensembles are homogenous classes for students in the early stages of study. Each level of Beginning Ensemble on each instrument is clearly specified based on demonstrable skills and level of repertoire. The number of discreet ensembles between beginning level and orchestral participation varies by instrument, and the exact criteria for any given level may change from one semester to the next. Students who have mastered the skills necessary to perform at approximately a mid-Suzuki Book 2 level (see exact requirements here) can join our Elementary Orchestra, the first level of our orchestras. Currently, we have four orchestras: Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced, and Chamber. Students also participate in our Musicianship sequence, classes that cover such topics as music reading, music theory, ear training, improvisation, and music history, among others. Students who have progressed through this sequence participate in elective classes, a set of courses designed by our faculty that allows students to learn from our teachers’ specific strengths and areas of expertise.
The Guitar Project emphasizes expressive music-making from the very first notes while teaching all of the essential technical and musical skills for first-rate musicianship on the classical guitar. The program is taught by graduate students in the classical guitar program at UT, which is highly regarded world-wide. The Guitar Project waiting list will be kept by the String Project office, but decisions regarding enrollment and admissions will be handled by the Guitar Project Director and faculty.
String Project Students participate in two gala concerts a year, one at the end of each semester. In addition, our Chamber Orchestra students may compete in an annual concerto competition, while full-time students all play in studio recitals and have the opportunity to audition for the annual Honors Recital. Past special events have included our annual Alternative Styles Festival and performances of String Project orchestras at the Texas Music Educators Association conference in San Antonio.
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