About This Event


Editor's Note by Kimberly Syvertsen

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Click on Newsletter icon to download this complete newsletter in PDF Format! 


Happy Holidays to all our ASTA/NJ Members! It is an honor and a pleasure to start the New Year serving on the board in this new capacity. What a credit to your resilience and creativity as educators that in spite of the recession I am able to report on so many wonderful happenings in string education throughout New Jersey. As a result, the theme of this issue is “Pushing Toward a Bright Future.”

We have a fantastic article on the sound production from our newest board member Kim Chiesa, an interview with one of the Garden State’s finest, Barbara Tamburro on her upcoming publication, a fresh look at some of the standard string repertoire through the eyes of veteran musician Ed Black, insights and wisdom from Betsy Maliszewski, who in the midst of both doctoral work and a thriving career inspires many as a life-long learner, and so much more!

As always, kindly consider sharing your sage advice with the NJ String community by submitting an article for publication. Here’s to a Bright 2011!

Kimberly Syvertsen
Editor-in-Chief, NJ Strings

P.S. Special thanks to music educator, composer and aspiring photographer Lester Vrtiak for providing much of the photography used to create the artwork for this issue.


President's Message by Erika Boras Tesi

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There are so many approaches to pedagogy it can be mind boggling!  The articles in this issue help us access current information and technology available as we lead our students towards a complete education with heart.
As you read the articles, you will find that they are united by the goal of creating desire and inspiration to play uplifting, interesting music well. In these complicated times we live in, simplicity is a beautiful thing.  The desire to make a beautiful sound is a pure and simple goal. Once a student has fallen in love with the voice of their instrument they will be able to overcome many obstacles (both technical and emotional). The enthusiasm created by the wonder of the sound they have discovered in their instrument will carry them through difficult times of study.

By the same token, when I sit alone with my cello to practice, the troubles of the day fall away, and the concentration that students mentioned in Ms. Chiesa's article takes me to that place where it is just me and the sound that keeps bringing me back to play more. When I can, as a teacher, open that door for my students so that they too can have the gift of simple pleasure in music I feel successful. Take note of Ms. Chiesa's approach to create thinking and feeling musicians.

Betsy Maliszewski's article will take you on a tour of internet sites that educate and excite students’ imaginations. Barbara Tamburro is publishing a book which is a great resource, and Leslie Webster discusses a bow technique that students love to learn. Please enjoy the articles and come back to the website frequently as we will be updating and changing information that I know you will want to be aware of. Also, become a friend on facebook! Join us at New Jersey ASTA and share what you are doing and thinking!


Erika Boras Tesi
President, ASTA/NJ


An Interview with Dr. Barbara Tamburro - Violinist, Educator & Author of "Great Music for String Orchestra" by Kimberly Syvertsen

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An Interview with Dr. Barbara Tamburro - Violinist, Educator & Author of "Great Music for String Orchestra"
by Kimberly Syvertsen

After peeling off a busy Morris County road one crisp, December afternoon and entering the Tamburro residence, I the fortunate guest am at once transported to a place of calm. My host, Dr. Barbara Tamburro, who I’ve oft heard of as a prominent voice in string education but have never crossed paths with before, is so gracious that I’m instantly put at ease. After a beautiful meal of home-cooked Italian fare and some bonding over teaching (and laughing over Montclair State memories--- we’re both alums!), we settle into the topic at hand: Barbara’s upcoming book, Great Music For String Orchestra, to be released later this month. My questions and commentary throughout the interview are few, as the intelligence, honesty and perspective of this gifted woman speak for themselves. Enjoy!

K: Tell us about “Great Music for String Orchestra”.

B: Great Music for String Orchestra is a detailed reference that assists conductors, musicians, teachers and music librarians in the selection of string orchestra repertoire. It is particularly useful in designing a well balanced concert program. A significant focus is placed on choosing music that is not only appropriate for the performance level of the string orchestra  but also considers the type of performance venue and audience that will be in attendance.

The 100 works represent all genres and styles composed and arranged for string orchestra. Each piece is graded on a ten-point scale indicating the level of the technical and stylistic challenges which helps the reader in choosing music that is appropriate for a specific performance group. The meter, key structure, historical period and/or style are listed as well. “Performance Notes” are offered in order to familiarize the conductor or teacher with each piece. Included in the program notes are bowing suggestions, interpretive comments, left and right hand technique, thematic design, form and stylistic considerations. Errors in the parts and scores are listed where applicable. In short, the performance notes save the conductors countless hours of score preparation as they are essentially complete lesson designs.
“Program Notes” are included with each of the 100 works and may be reproduced with full permission of the publisher for use in printed programs, lesson plans or lectures. The program notes include historical references to the composer, the musical work, and in some cases, interesting facts that were provided by the composers and arrangers. For example, I had an interview with the wife of the late Leroy Anderson, who was kind enough to provide me with information about his career as a composer and his unique relationship with the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of this reference book lies in the thousands of titles of string orchestra works that accompany each of the 100 annotated pieces. For each work, there are lists of similar repertoire related to either the composer, arranger, style, or form which may be programmed as an alternate work. For example, 21 additional titles of movements from the Nutcracker Ballet are listed under the annotated work, Mother Ginger. If a conductor wanted to program several movements of the ballet for a winter concert, the publisher is listed next to each title thus eliminating the need to peruse through publisher catalogs on websites. The Holberg Suite by Edvard Grieg is accompanied by 27 alternative pieces by the composer. The most interesting find during my research was a website that exclusively distributes dozens of authentic tangos from South America transcribed for string orchestra.

Finally, Great Music for String Orchestra includes comprehensive listings of music from the Renaissance period which are adaptable for string orchestra, a list of patriotic music, music for sight-reading that may be appropriate for a string orchestra setting, and titles of music folios that may be used for a performance. Publisher contact information including address, telephone, email and website is listed for all of the companies represented in the book.

K: Speaking as a conductor of youth orchestras, this is an unprecedented resource and huge time-saver. I’ve never heard of a book like it! You provide solid pedagogical advice in the “Performance Notes.” The inclusion of “Program Notes” is really fantastic and allows us as teachers (especially those of us who are less inclined to write or simply don’t have the time) to focus on our most important gifts--- educating and leading our charges in the engaged, thoughtful pursuit of music!

B: Upon reviewing Great Music for String Orchestra, one of my colleagues stated that “this book will make it easy for me to do one-stop shopping.”

K: What inspired you to write “Great Music for String Orchestra”?

B: Throughout my career, I was asked the same questions after performing at an adjudicated event--- How did you choose such a perfect program? Where did you find that unusual music? How did you teach your students to play jazz? Who is Francis Feese? Where did you find such a unique arrangement of opera arias?

I spent years researching music in print for string orchestra and building an extraordinary music library and I felt that I could make a contribution to string educators by sharing my vast knowledge of this unique repertoire.

K: Who else might benefit from this book?

B: The first person who comes to my mind is the college music major. If I had a book like this which outlined the organization and development of a string orchestra program, my job would have been much easier, especially during those first few years of teaching. The non-string major would find this book an invaluable resource if faced with having to conduct a string orchestra.

Finally, for music librarians, this book is a great reference.
K: What was the most interesting part about writing your book?

B: Writing a book is, in essence, a journey. As I carefully chose each piece that I wanted to feature, I began to recall my personal experiences conducting and performing these musical masterpieces. I thought of cathedrals in Europe that I played in and the musicians and conductors I toured with as a professional violinist. The faces of hundreds of students began to surface and, in quiet moments, I was able to actually recall certain performances. I realized how fortunate I was to have such a fulfilling music and teaching career.

K: Speaking of memories, which NJ string educators do you admire the most? Is there anyone in particular who made the greatest impact on you as a teacher?

B: As a young student, from Samuel Applebaum [author of the String Builder series] I learned the importance of creating an organized and balanced lesson. As an adult, I transferred his method of teaching violin to the orchestra rehearsal.

K: I’m constantly amazed (and pleasantly surprised) by how the strength of one’s overall musicianship ---especially on their major instrument--- translates to working effectively as a conductor.

B: As an adult, I transferred his method of teaching violin to the orchestra rehearsal using his metaphor of the “balanced diet”. I instinctively organized my rehearsals to include many different activities beginning with a warm up, rehearsing concert repertoire, isolating a left or right hand technique, then ending with either a sight-reading passage or the introduction of a new work.

From my high school conductor Frank Scocozza, who was the concertmaster of the New Jersey Symphony, I learned that there was no gray area when playing music. He also taught me that the child sitting in the last row of the second violin section was as important as the concertmaster.

As a college student, I learned from Dr. Jerome Landsman that every musician has unique strengths, and in order to be an effective teacher I had to understand how each of my students learned and processed information. Through example, he taught me to be a compassionate educator and that each time I gave a lesson to a student, I would learn and grow as well.

K: Having reflected on the mentors who guided you, what advice might you offer to young string players starting out in their teaching careers?

B: Have your students perform in public as much as possible, because the more you are visible in the community the more support you will receive for your string program.

Make your students feel important. If you are a new teacher with a very small string program, the most important challenge is to give your students confidence and a sense of self-worth as musicians.

K: What are some of the hallmarks of string education in New Jersey? What can we do better?

B: I think some of the greatest things we have to offer in New Jersey are the numerous fine youth orchestras throughout the state. We have excellent private teachers in every county, affording the public school string teacher the opportunity to send their students to exceptional string pedagogues. The numerous professional and amateur orchestras give our students the chance to hear great live music. We offer adjudicated orchestra festivals throughout the state, and in the past ten years we have begun to offer workshops for string teachers.

As for areas to improve in as a state--- NETWORK. Organize sight-reading sessions, share information, have more seminars for novice teachers, and offer more outreach programs that connect public and private school string teachers and conductors to aspiring string teachers from our NJ colleges and universities.

K: It’s true that the proximity to both New York City and Philadelphia has afforded us New Jerseyans rare opportunities, and I think you make a good point on both accounts--- with the excellence that abounds, we have a responsibility to feed what on many levels still has room to grow quantitatively and qualitatively. Hopefully the release of “Great Music for String Orchestra” will be a voice and a venue for future networking and musical growth in our wonderful state.

On March 5th, ASTA/NJ will be hosting a sight-reading session and a “Great Music for String Orchestra” book release party at Tenafly Middle School in Tenafly, NJ. (For those who are interested in ordering it right away, please read the important information below.)

Thanks so much, Barbara. It was so delightful talking with you today, and thanks for the amazing lunch!

B: It was such a pleasure to meet you. It is so good to see a young person have such a passion for important things in life--- things like music and teaching.

K: Yes, it was wonderful meeting you too. I’ve learned so much from you today about teaching and conducting, and I can’t wait to make “Great Music for String Orchestra” a part of my own library!
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

For advanced copies of the book, please place an order by calling  JW Pepper at 1 800 345 6296. For more information about "Great Music For String Orchestra," you may contact Meredith Music Publications ( or Hal Leonard (


Concerti Grossi by Ed Black

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The Twelve Concerti Grossi Opus 6 of George Frideric Handel

Here are twelve gems for training a growing string section. I have used all twelve over the course of my tenure at Belleville and Lakeland Symphony. They are all in practical keys for strings and cover a variety of challenges from #1 in G to #11 (A Major) and #12 (b minor).  The tempi range from a ripping Handel Allegro to the beautiful Affetuoso that opens the #4 in a minor. The Fugue in the second movement of #4 is challenging but playable, and the students have a real feeling of accomplishment when they conquer it. The other point is that the students are playing the original music and not some arrangement for school orchestra.
When they listen to the recorded performances they will see their music. All twelve are recorded by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Northern Sinfonia of England, and The Academy of Ancient Music.

The instrumentation is for solo violins 1&2, solo cello, and a ripieno string section including a continuo part. The bass is separate as a continuo part from the cello.  With computer keyboards of today we can have a “super harpsichord” sound without distortion.  Some of the concerti have difficult solo violin and cello parts in various movements, while other movements of some concerti are without any solo parts whatsoever.
The Italian Christmas Concerti

Many of us are familiar with the Corelli “Christmas Concerto.” However, there is a “Bolognese School of Composition” that produced Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfredini, and Pietro Locatelli as well. (The music, not the cheese.) These Concerti Grossi are beautiful gems that should be heard more often. All are published.
When I taught in Belleville we did a different one on each Christmas (or winter) concert. I also did one on the Lakeland Symphony concerts. Students looked forward to which one I would select for our winter concert.

Often these Concerti were performed as separate pieces and not in entirety. For High School teachers it is a great way to train students to “play out” if they have one of the solo parts. (And they will practice like crazy to get one of those solo parts!) They are all scored for violins one and two, viola, cello-bass and continuo. The only exception is the Locatelli which has two viola parts. The concertino has violins one and two, and a solo cello part.  Three have specific sections labeled “Pastorale” referring to the shepherds in the Nativity. Recordings of these exist by I Musici, and I Solisti Italiani. 
The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields

This group was founded by Sir Neville Marriner and was started as a group of London musicians who got together for fun to play the mostly Baroque music that they loved. They met in the church of St. Martin off Trafalgar square to play. The church is so old that it was literally in the field when founded. The city of London grew to encompass the church eventually. At night the church brings the disadvantaged inside to give them a bowl of soup and a place to sleep. The Academy started giving concerts  to raise money for the soup kitchen and as they say: “the rest is history”.

There is a beautiful film of about 60 minutes called “The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at Longleat House”. The Academy performs at one of the old English manor houses that would have existed in Handel’s time. The music ranges from Handel to Grieg and includes many shots of the house interior and grounds. There is also an interview with the present owner by Sir Neville Marriner.

Ed Black, ASTA/NJ historian, played violin for 4 years in All-State Orchestra and horn for 2 years in All-State Band. He continued in the U.S. Navy playing horn in the NATO band, the Norfolk Symphony, and violin in the NATO cocktail trio. He has a BA from Montclair State and an MA from the Teacher’s College of Columbia University.  He also holds a state supervisor’s certificate.  Ed played 10 years with the New Jersey Symphony and 25 years at the Paper Mill Playhouse. He has taught 40 years in the schools and colleges of New Jersey, and has conducted Region Band and Orchestra.  He plays horn with the Orchestra of Saint Peter by the Sea, The Festival of the Atlantic, and the Plainfield Symphony. He currently plays violin and viola with Garden State Wedding Music, a group that plays weddings, banquets, and corporate events.


Something to try: Teaching Bariolage by Leslie Webster

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Bariolage is a special effect enthusiastically played by students of all ages; it looks flashy and sounds virtuosic, but is not difficult to perform once certain techniques are in place. Most music dictionaries define bariolage as a rapid oscillation of the bow between 2, 3, or 4 strings.  The Harvard Dictionary of Music stipulates that the lower strings produce the relatively higher tones, and indeed, we all know of excerpts where this occurs, but in the interests of this discussion, the more general definition will be employed.

Left hand:
The fingers should be positioned and remain in place for the entire oscillation, both for clarity and good intonation.  If the fingers must change during the oscillation, each change must occur before the bow sounds the string.  The easiest way to teach this in two-string oscillations is to have the students play the passage super slowly, making finger changes in half time between the sounded notes.  It’s helpful to say “and” when each finger lifts or drops.  In three- or four-string oscillations, the finger changes can be made any time the bow is away from the involved strings.  Planning exactly when to make the changes and practicing them in is essential.

Right hand:
All of the standards that are set for the legato bow stroke apply here: good contact point, straight bow, a selected arm weight, and an appropriate bow speed.

For two-string oscillations, keep the arm movement relaxed but minimal and use a gentle waving of the hand to execute the string change.  If the notes are slurred, the right hand will trace an undulating wave.  It the notes are separate, the lower note is generally down bow, the upper note is generally up bow, and the hand traces a circle.

In slurred three- and four-string oscillations the entire arm comes into play.  To avoid bumping (thus falsely accenting each string) the student can envision the right elbow rising and falling like an elevator.  The wrist is relaxed but not active.  The elbow regulates the speed and evenness of the string changes.  It helps for the student to focus on the elbow and ignore the hand and wrist.  The hand will trace an arc.

In cases, such as the Preludio of Bach’s Partita # 3, where the bow keeps returning to the middle string, the hand will trace a figure eight.  Have the student map this motion out slowly; once grasped, the motion will be smooth and relaxed.

Etudes and pieces to try…
The following etudes and pieces have substantial enough passages in bariolage to be worthy of study:

Bariolage: two-string oscillations
Telemann, Violin Concerto in G (4)*
Durand, Chacone from Violinists Contest Album (6)
Vivaldi concertos (5+)
Viotti, Concerto #23 (7)
Bach, Concerto in E (8)    O’Reilly, Fiddle Magic (1+)
Wohlfahrt, Op. 74 #38; Op. 45 #50, 55 (4+)
Kayser, Op. 20, #10 (3+)
Dont, Op. 37, #18 (7+)
Kreutzer, 42 Studies, #13, 30 (8+)
Dont, Op. 35, #5 (9+)

Bariolage: three-string oscillations
Mollenhauer, Infant Paganini (4)
Telemann, Fantasia #5 (Twelve Fantasias) (8)
Saenger, The Lost Chord, from Violinists Contest Album (6)
Bach, Concerto in Am (7)
O’Reilly, Fiddle Magic (1+)
Casorti, Op. 50, #16 (8+)
Fiorillo, 36 Etudes, #36 (8+)

Bariolage: four-string oscillations
Mollenhauer, Boy Paganini (5)
Kabalevsky, Concerto in C, 3rd mov. (9)
Mendelssohn, Concerto in Em, 1st mov. (10)
Saint-Saens, Intro and Rondo Capriccioso (10)   
O’Reilly, Fiddle Magic (1+)
Mazas, Op. 36, Bk. 2. #37 (7+)
Dont, Op. 35, #19 (9+)

 * ASTACAP examination level

Leslie Webster received her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and Master’s degree from Harvard University. She has performed as concertmaster, lecture-recitalist, chamber player, and as a soloist in the tri-state area and abroad. She currently specializes in pedagogy, having studied in particular the methods of Paul Rolland, Kato Havas, Mimi Zweig, Louise Behrend, and Margaret Pressley. Mrs. Webster is a past-president of ASTA/NJ and is currently a co-chair of the ASTA/NJ Certificate Program. She offers a summer Cadet Teacher course for pre-college students who want to teach and teaches violin to private award-winning students in regular and accelerated pre-college programs in Madison, NJ.


Sound Advice: What is a good sound? by Kimberly Chiesa

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One of the most important aspects of becoming a musician is to play with a tone that is pleasing to the ear.  In many cases, the goal in a young musician’s beginning career is to play in tune with perfect posture and good rhythm. Too often, the idea of playing with a decent tone is overlooked, or is not properly explained or demonstrated.  

When teaching my beginning cello players how to use the bow for the first time, I told them to make a “good sound” with their bows. After making that request, a student asked me what a good sound was. That question inspired me to create my “What is a good sound?” project.

This project started with two different parts. The first part involved my 5th grade students receiving a chart with 12 different words that could easily describe the sounds they can make with their bow. In the next few lessons, we played certain passages of music and then picked what words best described their sound.  They also had the opportunity to choose any word they wanted, and then had to play a scale with bows that matched the sound word.  After discovering how to make certain sounds (and how to avoid other sounds,) I helped guide students towards picking certain sound words for their concert music, and taught them how to listen to their bows to get that sound for each different song.

Once my students started listening to what they were doing, I thought it would be helpful to give them solid examples of world-class musicians whose playing demonstrated the same sound words on their chart.  I gave them a list of string players and told them to pick one musician that plays their particular instrument, as well as one other musician (or group) from the list. The requirement was to find a recording of each musician from any resource (youtube was the most suggested.) I also gave them a worksheet with two spaces--- one to write down words from their sound chart, and the other for comparing the sound words they heard. The cool part came with the open-ended questions that I asked each student!  Each student had to say what their favorite part about listening was, and they also had to tell me what they learned.

It was amazing to see that beginning string players listened to Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Jacqueline DuPre, Alisa Weilerstein, Isaac Stern, Steven Isserlis, Mtsislav Rostapovich, David Oistrach, Anne Sophie Mutter, Hilary Hahn, the Ying Quartet, the Emerson Quartet, and the Shanghai Quartet. Not only did my students enjoy listening to these musicians, but the answers they gave me were fairly sophisticated and got them thinking about their own musicianship.  Here are some of my favorites:

“My favorite part [of listening] was just how wonderful the sound was. It was so graceful and elegant and warmed my heart.”

“I liked listening to the recordings because I love listening to music and it makes me happy.”

“My favorite part [of listening] was getting to learn by watching professionals, and learning how to play better on the violin.”

“My favorite part of listening to these recordings was when I could think to myself: How can I sound like them? Because it told me that to sound like them would take lots of practice.”

“My favorite part [of listening] was hearing the smooth, peaceful sounds of the violin and cello. It relaxed my mind and showed me how to focus my mind.”

“My favorite part was listening to the two different instruments I picked. I liked that part because I liked seeing the differences in them.”

“My favorite part of listening to the music was seeing how focused they are because it makes you want to be as concentrated as they [the musicians] are.”

The change in the sound at the next rehearsal was incredible. These students started listening carefully to their own sound, and even started trying to match the sounds of the other students around them! The amount of musical sensitivity that they had in their approach to the concert pieces was at a sophisticated level I didn’t know was possible for a 5th grade orchestra. It proves the point that young musicians can think critically at any level as long as you help guide them.

Kimberly Chiesa recently received her Bachelors degree in Music Education from Montclair State University, where she was an active member of the ASTA@MSU college chapter. She has been teaching at the Montclair Preparatory Center for the Arts for nearly five years, and has been teaching privately for the past four years. She has received Suzuki Teacher Training for Books one to three on violin.  Kim also just began her career as an Elementary Strings teacher in the Randolph School District, and will be doing some managing work with the Region I junior and high school orchestras this year.


Scale-ing New Heights: All-State Intermediate Solo and Scale Preparation for William Squire’s Tarantella by Fran Rowell

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How many of us have had the following exchange with our students as they work to prepare their auditions for All-State?
TEACHER:    “The Tarantella is coming along very well.  Good work.  Now let’s hear your scales.”
STUDENT:    “Um….I kinda…like…well……..I didn’t have time to get to those.”
TEACHER:     “{Sigh}”

For this year’s ASTA/NJ Symposium sessions devoted to All-State audition preparation I went on the offensive.  I took some of the more complex bowing issues from William Squire’s Tarantella and used them in a series of scale studies. Why not make the student fluent in the required bow technique BEFORE turning them loose with the piece?  Hah!!!

If any of you use this material I would love to hear your feedback. Happy New Year to all.  May 2011 be a year full of great joy and much music making.

- Fran Rowell


A versatile and enterprising cellist dedicated to musical outreach, Frances Rowell received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Juilliard School. Ms. Rowell has been a member of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra since 1995. She is on the adjunct faculty of New Jersey City State University and William Patterson University and served as President of the New Jersey Chapter of the American String Teachers Association in 2008-2009. An inventor as well as a cellist, Ms. Rowell received a United States Patent for a portable endpin resonating platform for the cello.


Googling "Violin" by Betsy Maliszewski


Googling “violin” produces 28,500,000 hits ranging from a YouTube video of a robot playing Pomp and Circumstance to a site that details famous Dutch violinmakers of the 16th century. Interesting stuff, but not exactly what I or my students are looking for. When evaluating a website, I look for reliable information, intelligent discussion on their blog or conversation pages, links to other topic-appropriate websites, minimal or non-pervasive commercial advertisement and free downloads. While most websites have some commercial component through advertisements, links, or online stores, for the purpose of this article I have tried to stay away from purely commercial sites.

A good place to start for basic information and downloads are the,, and websites. These sites, all linked together, provide an easy to navigate tutorial of sting instrument basics, printable exercises and scales, and listening links. String instrument specific sites, such as,,, and offer resources, articles, tutorials, historical information, instrument information, and links for their specific instrument. Another violin site,, provides ongoing pedagogue blogs and discussion threads in addition to resources and articles.

Two large commercial sites worth visiting for their extensive string resources sections are and The student resource area of offers free downloads of string articles, printable scales, online flashcards, ringtones, and printable orchestra crossword puzzles. The website, while the most commercial of the sites reviewed in this article, contains links to hundreds of free internet resources for violin/viola students.

Links to these websites can be found at Happy web surfing in the New Year!

Betsy Maliszewski is a String Specialist with the West Orange Public Schools. In addition, she teaches the string methods classes at Rutgers University and Caldwell College. Betsy is a doctoral candidate at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University with a primary research interest in string intonation and elementary strings.


Vivace Assai: Adventures in Teaching & Conducting by Kimberly Syvertsen

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For the 12,000th time… a tale of Elgar, Exposure, and Education
by Kimberly Syvertsen

     (reprinted from the blog,

This year I will probably be about the 12,000th person to conduct the Elgar Serenade for Strings in e minor, Op. 20 with youth orchestra. My greatest hope is that there will be another 12,000 after me! It is thrilling knowledge that we'll be able to pass along our art in one of the most invaluable ways---through making live music.

I mean to encourage all you educators and performers today as we start the New Year. We don't have to feel overwhelmed by the past precedent with interpretations. It’s easy to fall in the trap of "There will never be a better recording of this than the one by so-and-so" or "Who really wants to hear my high school band play this piece, when it was premiered so beautifully last year by the local college's ensemble?" All of this is worth repeating, every second of it ---be those seconds of pristine execution from a professional ensemble or the heartfelt quirkiness of a middle-school choir. If we never said "I love you" to people just because the Hollywood actors and actresses present it so beautifully on the silver screen, imagine what a loveless place the world would be. If we didn't have children because we realized that we might pass on our high cholesterol or allergies, how quickly might the human race disappear?

This is probably a good time to briefly discuss the above mentioned "Serenade for Strings", as it has likely origins in the piece Elgar wrote for the Worchester Ladies' Orchestral Class (who were amateur musicians, by the way.) Titled "Three Pieces for String Orchestra", these lyrical, pastoral (and in the composer's own words, "stringy") movements were originally dubbed Spring Song, Elegy, and Finale respectively. Upon hearing the work, Elgar's wife composed beautiful poetry for each movement. (I've managed to get small snippets of the poems from program notes, though I would love to read them in their entirety.) Even the intensely self-critical Elgar proclaimed in a letter to his dear friend C.W. Buck, dated 8 July 1888: "I like 'em (the first thing I ever did!)"

For such a piece of music to inspire poetry and produce rare satisfaction in the composer bespeak the quality of the work. Its probable current incarnation as the "Serenade for Strings" has been well-loved for years.

Interestingly enough, the "Three Pieces" manuscript was lost, and the "Serenade" was first billed by music publisher Novello as "unsaleable". Amazing that something so precious to us today might have never been brought to light given such a precarious beginning. Eventually the "Serenade for Strings" as we know it today was published by Brietkopf & Hartel in 1892, with the first complete performance of the work not until 1905. (That's right, 1905. How's that for threadbare entry into the market?). Someone had to make it heard in order for it to become an oft-performed staple of the string orchestra repertoire. History ended up being kind to the work because people made it kind. The bottom line is that this music had to see the light of day in order to become viable. It had to be performed again. And again. And again.

While the tale of Elgar’s Serenade is sobering, I suspect the summation of our situation as educators and evangelists for classical music lies in two places with two very different quotes--- one hopeful, one cautionary. In the words of Sir Francis Darwin--- "But in science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs." We get to convince the world of the beauty of classical music, simply by carrying on this tradition with all our heart. For if we fail to continue it because we're hung up on comparing our humble offerings to the Berlin Philharmonic, then we doom ourselves to extinction. As Henry Demarest Lloyd wisely said, "Monopoly is Business at the end of its journey." Recordings alone cannot rouse our hearts as live performances can; highest-quality live professional performances of classical music cannot possibly reach everyone, as demographics, financial reasons, and exposure show. I know many who may have never been consumers in the classical music market, buying recordings or concert tickets, if not for first being exposed to the noble art through their kids playing it--- my own parents included!

Take heart; there is room for all of us. You all have so much to offer the world through classical music, not only for the 12,000th performance, but especially for the 12,000th performance.
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Anderson, Robert. “Elgar and his Publishers.” The Cambridge Companion to Elgar.
Eds. Daniel Grimley and Julian Rushton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 24-31.

Brown, Svend. Serenade for Strings. Programme Note.
6 Jan 2011.

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    Ed. Percy Young. 2nd ed. Westport, CT: Hyperion Press Inc, 1979.

Grimley, Daniel M. “ ‘A smiling with a sigh’: the chamber music and works for strings.” The Cambridge Companion to
Elgar. Eds. Daniel Grimley and Julian Rushton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 120-138.

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Kimberly Syvertsen is in her fifth year as director of the youth symphonies at Montclair State University, where she conducts the Youth Orchestra, Junior Orchestra and Chamber Sinfonia. She received her B.M. in violin performance from the Peabody Conservatory and her Artist Diploma from MSU, where she was a scholarship student teaching the string methods class. During her tenure as student chapter president, ASTA@MSU was awarded most outstanding in the country for 2007. Kimberly also conducts the Overture Strings (Youth Orchestras of Essex County), the Thurnauer Philharmonia (JCC on the Palisades), and the Lower School Strings at the Dwight-Englewood School.