As an intern at TAI in the summer of 2008, I helped document music communities in my home county, Washington. Based on an article in a local newspaper, I learned about an informal after-school music program at East Washington Elementary. I wrote the following report based on several fieldwork visits and conversations with program leader Jane Sizemore.
Jane Sizemore teaches art at East Washington Elementary School in Pekin, Indiana, a small town located in the state’s southern hills. Since 2001, Sizemore has welcomed students to her classroom after school to practice a slightly different art—music performance. The East Washington Strings music program provides young people from throughout the school corporation with a free opportunity to learn the guitar and violin. Sizemore drew inspiration for the group in part from her experiences with local traditional music, including her participation in the Blue River Music Association organized by luthier Larry Hopkins. Students who participate in the program learn a wide range of repertoire, including classical as well as popular styles. The group’s string ensembles perform annually for Salem’s Old Settlers’ Days heritage festival, as well as at other community engagements. As participation increases, Sizemore hopes to expand the group’s instrumentation to form a small student orchestra.
In our recorded interview, Jane told me the following about the role of the music program in the Pekin area:
I love it, and I feel like I’m really meeting a need in our community. You know, this is an area where people are not very wealthy, we’re sort of isolated, it’s really far to drive to take lessons from anybody, and so, I kind of feel like it’s a mission in a way, and I was just so glad to do it. I started out with four players, so our first group was called All Four Strings—four strings on a violin, four students—so that was the name of our first group. It grew from about four to–actually I’m up to about 30 now. And I have groups from beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and I do guitars and fiddles, and as they progress I put both instruments together and we go out and do community performances and things like that, so, it’s grown and it keeps growing.