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Mon, Jan. 27

School district develops elementary orchestra program on a shoestring budget

Shown are Granville students with repainted music stands. Enrollment in the district’s orchestra program has grown. (HUSD/Courtesy, file)

Shown are Granville students with repainted music stands. Enrollment in the district’s orchestra program has grown. (HUSD/Courtesy, file)


Paula Stewart, volunteer orchestra program leader for the Humboldt Unified School District, displays the notebooks each student receives at the beginning of the school year. (Sue Tone/Courier, file)

Beginning this school year, fifth- and sixth-graders at four elementary schools in the Humboldt Unified School District now can learn stringed instruments and play in orchestras. At Liberty Traditional School, grades K-8, participation extends into seventh and eighth grades.

In one short year, beginning with a pilot program at Granville Elementary School this past year, enrollment in the district’s orchestra program grew from the initial 17 students to more than 100 this year.

Paula Stewart, volunteer orchestra program leader, taught at Granville last year, and put out the word for teachers and others for help as initial student interest surpassed her expectations. She said she had figured on about 50 to 60 students, not 100.

Funding for the program is possible through student participation fees and donations by businesses, charitable organizations and individuals.

“All of this is being done through HUSD, with no direct expense to the district, thanks to the generous support of business sponsors, community donors and the Humboldt Education Foundation,” Stewart said.

Since the beginning of the year, Prescott Pops Symphony has provided a stipend for instructor Ruthie Wilde to take one half of the unexpectedly large number of students at Lake Valley Elementary School students enrolled in orchestra. Wilde also directs the Liberty Traditional and Glassford Hill Middle School orchestras. Two members of the Pops are volunteering, Gayle Jarpe and Fran Willes, as well as violinist Kevin Kobus and Betsy Denison.

Not every student has access to instruments or fees, and contributions and sponsorships help with scholarship options for families.

Stewart said, as of Oct. 1, the program has received eight violins from community members. Financial contributions to the Humboldt Education Foundation School Orchestra Program have allowed the purchase of additional violins, violas and cellos.

“All of these donations have been instrumental (pun intended) in purchasing the needed startup supplies and putting instruments into the hands of all students. We could not be where we are without every one of them,” Stewart said.

To give an idea of what it costs to provide instruments for a school orchestra, she said a new child-sized violin runs about $450, and up to $1,200 for a cello. She works with a company in Phoenix, Stradivari House, for rentals, repairs and purchases, as well as scouring local shops and Craigslist for good quality instruments.

Studies prove that playing a stringed instrument — any instrument, actually — helps children develop not just musical skills and an appreciation for music, but life skills as well — time management, problem solving, working within a group, memorization, coordination, preparation and persistence, self-discipline and how to deal with performance anxiety.

Granville orchestra students put on 10 performances during the past school year, including Glassford Place Senior Living, Prescott Valley Arts Festival and before the HUSD Governing Board.

For more information, call Paula Stewart at 507-222-9196, email or contact the Humboldt Education Foundation at or call 928-848-6757.

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