By Felicia Ho (V)
Shrill, piercing, and unbelievably scratchy. The first time I heard a violin, I couldn’t believe my ears. Yet, there I was at my local music shop, picking out my first violin as a fourth grader. Hundreds of violins lined the walls, waiting to be brought to life with a single bow stroke. A select few were lined against the back wall; they were the chosen ones that had been treasured for centuries on end by the old and the young. As I grasped the neck of a dark brown, German-made violin and picked up a bow, I was determined to let its voice ring to the world for the first time.
When I was in the Lower School, coming to the Winter Festival at the Upper School was always the highlight of my year. I couldn’t wait to sink into those big, comfy red and blue chairs in Hauser Auditorium as Mr. Berdos waved his baton to begin the concert. My gaze always fell on the concertmaster, who was a quiet yet important leader of the entire orchestra and always seemed perfectly in sync with the conductor.
Years later, I’m no longer ensconced in the comfort of the red chair. Instead, I am sitting in a hard, black metal chair as a part of the Upper School string orchestra. As the conductor’s baton waves overhead, I look at the same piece I have played for four years and try to make sense of the black lines that flood the page. Around me on the stands, heads are bobbing up and down, and there are wide gaps in the bleachers that had once been filled with eager faces and cheery smiles. As I look out to the audience, rows and rows of seats are empty. Those performing glance down at flashing phone screens, impatiently tapping their feet, their minds on school and work.
What has happened to the power of music? Why is it no longer bringing people together the way it used to?
The answer may lie in the recent budget cuts on national arts programs, a result of the increased emphasis being placed on STEM and athletics programs. In March, President Trump announced that “… the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely…” (NPR). Historically viewed as an integral part of education, the arts have begun to fade, largely due to their perceived “uselessness” in an era of progressive technology.
But why was music so important in the first place? Was it not to connect the world, breaking all barriers, be they linguistic or geographical? Music is the universal language, and directing funds and support away from this important subject is damaging to current and future generations. Now more than ever, we need music to connect us in these divisive and stressful times. Without sufficient emphasis on music programs, we cannot compose this bridge.
Fortunately, Pingry is heading in the right direction. Although it has spent most of its budget and time on STEM and athletic programs in the past, the school is beginning to improve the arts programs. Just this year, the newly formed percussion ensemble blew me away at the Winter Festival, and the newly appointed Arts Ambassadors have paved the way for Pingry arts programs in gaining more recognition from fellow classmates. In addition, Hostetter on the Five performances are great venues for student musicians to share their talent and music with the community.
Making a violin sing is not an easy job, as I’ve learned in the past seven years. Every day I’m faced with a new challenge, whether it be the difficult rhythm, technique, or structure of a piece. But I’ve learned to push forward, and the results can be rewarding. If everyone in the community can join together in a harmony by attending and supporting their peers at school concerts, we can truly make our hearts sing together.