Inspired by a video of Venezuelan children using recycled materials to make instruments of the orchestra, Metcalf teachers Lisa Matejka, and her assistant, Megan Barnash (Technology), Cindy Mohrman (Art), Laurel Schumacher, Ginnell Barke (1st grade), and Margot Ehrlich (Orchestra), have collaborated on and piloted Metcalf’s own El Sistema paper violin project, generously funded by the Thake Grant.

The first prototype of violins, cellos, and bows were hacked out by Ehrlich and improved upon and then constructed by the 8th grade technology students, who strengthened the original, devised mass production methods (we needed 40), and created 3D printed bridges and tail pieces. They also figured out how to attach strings to the instruments, and designed and made realistic looking bows.

The next step was for the 1st grade to personalize their instruments. Mohrman lead students through the steps of designing, tissue paper and paint marker decoration of the instruments, and clay scroll construction. Instruments were then returned to Technology students for final assembly of working parts. The results are stunning works of art. The students are very proud of their beautiful, highly individual looking instruments.

A model orchestra performance was given by the 8th grade students with the invited 1st graders sitting right at the feet of the musicians. Now the 1st grade was ready for their lessons on how to play their instruments.

Teachers for this project are 5th and 6th grade orchestra students who have designed and taught lessons to their 1st grade “Orchestra Buddies” once a week for several weeks now. As teachers, 5th and 6th graders have learned to be creative in teaching the skills they learned not so long ago of how to hold instrument and bow and how orchestras function as a community “ears listening”and “eyes watching”, all working together.

The final lesson, with the help of The Music Shoppe in Normal, will allow the 1st graders a chance to play real violins and cellos. On May 10, an assembly in Hayden Auditorium will showcase the work of the 1st grade string players and their 5th and 6th grade teachers.