National String Project Consortium

Renee Ballenger

Valerie Cisler, Chair of the Music & Performing Arts Department, is so thrilled with UNK’s elite membership in the National String Project Consortium, she’s brimming with youthful-like enthusiasm. She is excited about the Project mostly because of how it benefits so many parties in the community—namely, UNK students, UNK faculty and academics, schoolchildren, the arts community, and the overall quality of life in central Nebraska.

The National String Project Consortium is an American program with only 35 members. “Look at this map (see Figure 1.1.),” Cisler points out. “UNK’s Music program has been chosen to be in the company of some very impressive programs in higher education institutions across the country.”

Cisler explains the background that led to the creation of the NSPC. “We (the music education community) first discovered in the late 90s, a severe shortage of string teachers in the U.S., and it didn’t take us long to deduce that if there aren’t enough teachers, we wouldn’t have enough performers in the near future. Something needed to be done to avoid that.”

Thus, the mission of NSPC. The Project is working toward allienating this shortage by facilitating undergraduate music students to teach their art to pre-college students. “What’s happening, among so many other wonderful results,” Cisler reports, “is these students, most of whom have never considered teaching, are finding that they love teaching and are very effective doing so.”

The NSPC benefits to elementary students are manyfold. First, the children are receiving quality instruction through NSPC, two hours per week, for only $35 a semester, or $70 a year. That’s 95 percent less the average cost of regular music lessons, commercial or private! Currently, Cisler explains, children don’t start receiving exposure to the string instruments until fifth grade; the NSPC allows for exposure as early as third grade. “The NSPC philosophy is very sincere in its desire to support and enhance public school music education programs,” Cisler states. Schoolchildren who choose to participate in NSPC come to a classroom on campus outside of their regular school day, and they must have their own instruments. In this first semester of NSPC at UNK, there are already 30 Kearney schoolchildren learning how to play the strings from UNK music major, Rachel Holl, a senior from Kearney. “Besides the obvious educational rewards, look at the kind of role models and environment we, as an institution, are able to provide to our community,” Cisler shares. “It’s a two-way focus on students—in the public schools and on our undergraduate students as well.”

In addition to the encouragement of students to become teachers, NSPC undergraduate instructors also receive an hourly stipend and work closely with a faculty mentor.

Professor Ting-Lan Chen is responsible for writing the proposal for UNK to become part of NSPC. And, the newly-granted faculty line for the department, recently accepted by Professor Noah Rogoff, is a direct result of UNK’s membership in NSPC. Cisler reports that Rogoff spends a quarter of his time directing the UNK NSPC. “And, he spends the rest of his time,” she pauses for emphasis, “teaching”— and another effective pause—“strings!” she exclaims. “Noah is a cellist and teaches low strings. Before, resources only allowed for a part-time instructor in this area.”

Cisler explains that Professor Rogoff has an unusual but fabulous-for-UNK-and- Kearney educational background; he holds three performance degrees plus extensive certification in both music theory and music criticism—all particularly influential on the Department’s level of creative activity and research practice, in terms of analysis, writing, performance and learning. Also, Rogoff ’s performance talents are now complementing the Kearney Area Symphony Orchestra and both UNK’s Chamber Ensemble and Orchestra.

Chen’s proposal has manifested into UNK’s membership in the NSPC, which is a 10 year commitment. To begin, UNK had to match NSPC’s start-up funds of $10,000. Next year, that figure will be only $6,500. Cisler is grateful to so many, and explains that UNK’s membership in NSPC is possible through the support of the Dana Foundation, UNK’s Office of Sponsored Programs, UNK’s Department of Music and Performing Arts, College of Fine Arts, the Kearney Area Symphony Orchestra Board, The Kearney Area Arts Council and many private donors and friends.