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Cue the string section

 

One church’s string academy helps both church and youth grow in unexpected ways

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Members of the Glasgow Presbyterian String Academy rehearse. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church in Glasgow, Kentucky)

LOUISVILLE — Glasgow (Kentucky) Presbyterian String Academy was born, the church’s transitional minister, the Rev. Charlie Evans says, because the church paid attention to what God was saying.

It’s a good thing Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky was listening as well.

Evans’ arrival at First Presbyterian Church in Glasgow in the fall of 2018 coincided roughly with the local school district’s decision to cancel instruction for violin and cello players. Four of the 32 people who were then in worship at FPC on an average Sunday were affected, as were two of Evans’ own children.

“We thought, here is an opportunity,” Evans recalled. “Thirty or 40 kids had nowhere else to play, and so I approached the presbytery with a plan: If they could help us financially, we could lasso those kids and give them the opportunity to keep playing. As a side result, some have become active in our church.”

The Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky provided a six-year grant to help fund tuition for the academy, beginning with $15,000 the first year and gradually reducing the funding each succeeding year. Anyone who wants to join the academy is thus enrolled tuition free, Evans said, removing what can be a big barrier for many parents.

“Through the academy, the church is showing that it is committed to the health, growth and well-being of the youth in the community,” the Rev. John Odom, Mid-Kentucky’s Presbyter for Community Life, wrote in an email. “It is our hope that some of the youth may in time have the same experience with music as Kurt Vonnegut when he said, ‘Music was the only proof he needed for the existence of God.’”

Last November, academy musicians played during lunch served during a presbytery meeting. Middle school musicians filled in for a few of the high school players who the very same day were auditioning for the all-state orchestra.

“They rehearsed and did very well,” Evans said. “I expect down the road that as often as churches would like us to come play, we will.”

During Advent, musicians with the Glasgow Presbyterian String Academy joined other musicians to help celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church in Glasgow, Kentucky)

First Presbyterian Church’s string academy “is enacting Jesus’ command to ‘love God and love neighbor,’” Odom said, “and the congregation, the community and the presbytery are being blessed as this life-giving congregation is helping to transform their little part of the world.”

Glasgow is a community of about 14,000 residents living in southern Kentucky. It’s the county seat of Barren County and was a stop along the Underground Railroad. Glasgow was originally the home of Western Kentucky University, which moved farther west to Bowling Green in 1885, 10 years after the university was established. Glasgow is still home to a regional campus of WKU.

In order to succeed, the musicians must rely on themselves as well as each other, their instructor wrote in an email.

“When it is time for a performance,” wrote Morgan Thomas, “the students quickly realize that it is entirely up to them how successful their performance will be. They alone are responsible if the performance doesn’t go as planned, but they can also take great pride in a successful performance as well as experience great joy by seeing the way their music can touch others.”

Since the academy’s beginning nearly a year ago, “I have seen tremendous growth in the students in every way,” Thomas said. “Of course, they are advancing technically on their respective instruments. But more importantly they are fostering their gifts that they have been blessed with, while building character.”

Musicians with the Glasgow Presbyterian String Academy rarely pass up an opportunity to play together — especially at Halloween. (Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church in Glasgow, Kentucky)

The academy now has 22 members, including cellist Jackson Bower, who was recently selected to be the string academy’s ambassador.

“Every team needs a captain,” Evans said. “We needed someone to be the leader, to make public appearances and do media relations” and other responsibilities as well.

“Our goal is to learn life lessons, that you get out of something what you put into it, that small things can make a difference,” he said. “Jackson has picked up on all those things. He sets the example, and others follow him.”

“Playing any instrument (but especially those belonging to the violin family) is challenging, and requires dedication and focus,” said Thomas, the academy instructor. “Along with that comes self-responsibility, which some students may not have had to assume previously … For me, my goal is not for my students to become professional musicians, but rather to be more sensitive, compassionate and intellectual human beings. If I have achieved this and the students are happy, then I have met that goal. I am overjoyed by the growth of the students at First Presbyterian String Academy, and I look forward to watching the program continue to grow.”

The next step for the program, Evans said, is to find an area person or a business willing to partner with the academy to keep it financially viable. Like the musicians, the financial backer is likely to get as much out of the arrangement as he or she puts into it.

“We want to help our partners as much as they help us,” said Evans, who can be reached at evanscharlie@rocketmail.com. “We don’t want this to be a one-way street. We are keeping our eyes open for someone to invest in us as we invest in them.”


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