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Young Musicians Perfect Their Skills

Fourth, fifth, sixth graders practice playing in an orchestra

The Summer Strings Program helps fourth, fifth and sixth grade students practice playing their instruments in an orchestra setting.

Ruth Donahue, the orchestra conductor for Spring Hill Elementary School, conducts the Summer Strings Orchestra. She has directed the program for 20 years in three different states and has enjoyed it every year.

"The program is actually only for about eight days, but I think that makes it more of a challenge for the kids. This program is to help the students improve before the school year and just make the music for kids," said Donahue.

"I’m doing it so I can get better at playing the viola. Then next year, I can play songs that I want to play," said Michael Kelley, a student at Colvin Run Mill Elementary.

"The music they play is mostly classical, with some modern stuff," said Erica O’Brien, a volunteer at the program.

At St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean, the students practice pieces such as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," "Moonlight Waltz" and "Greatest Love of All."

For "Freaky Friday," Donahue is dressed in a black cloak along with wig and feathers, and other children are dressed in their masks and Halloween costumes. She energetically plays along with the students, encouraging certain sections to play louder. Even though the program starts at 9 a.m., the students are awake and follow Donahue’s lead.

Throughout the rehearsal, Donahue involves the students by asking questions about musical terms and their opinions on titles to certain pieces. When a consensus reached that the name "String Thing" was not fitting, Donahue asked for suggestions until a final vote was placed on a new name. Then the children played a game of "Simon Says" as a break from playing and compete to be "Simon." Before the end of the rehearsal, Donahue informed the students that the coming Monday will be called "Merry Monday" and encourageed them to dress up.

This summer, there are 35 students, ranging from ages 7 to 11, who will be performing at the final concert on Aug. 11, at 7:30 p.m. At the end of the Summer Strings Program, each musician receives a certificate and medal for attending the Summer Strings Program and an assortment of prizes and musical games.

For more information about the Summer Strings Orchestra Camp, visit the Web site at http://www.music-masters.org/summerstrings.html or call 703-848-9403.

Summer Strings is sponsored by Music Masters.