Schnell strings hopeful tunes with former pupils

Published 10:46 am Monday, March 10, 2014

Violin teacher Ruthanne Schnell leads students in playing "My Favorite Things" during a class Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)

Violin teacher Ruthanne Schnell leads students in playing “My Favorite Things” during a class Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)

 

Violin teacher Ruthanne Schnell shows Anna Di Stante, 7, how to properly hold a bow during a class Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)

Violin teacher Ruthanne Schnell shows Anna Di Stante, 7, how to properly hold a bow during a class Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)

Violin teacher Ruthanne Schnell shows Anna Di Stante, 7, how to properly hold her violin during a class Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)

Violin teacher Ruthanne Schnell shows Anna Di Stante, 7, how to properly hold her violin during a class Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)

Anastasia Tower, 11, right, plays violin with other students during a class with teacher Ruthanne Schnell Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post) (Other students are Mikaela Meer, 8, from left, Paula Meer, 9, Samantha Parker, 10, Gabe Hodge, 10, and Kaleb Miller, 8)

Anastasia Tower, 11, right, plays violin with other students during a class with teacher Ruthanne Schnell Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)
(Other students are Mikaela Meer, 8, from left, Paula Meer, 9, Samantha Parker, 10, Gabe Hodge, 10, and Kaleb Miller, 8)

Joshua Smith, 10, plays violin with other students during a class with teacher Ruthanne Schnell Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)

Joshua Smith, 10, plays violin with other students during a class with teacher Ruthanne Schnell Friday at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. (Justin Sellers/ Vicksburg Post)

Most Monday and Friday afternoons, the subdued sounds of violins and children’s laughter can be heard floating through the hallways of the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. The afternoon light pours through a classroom window, and Edwards resident Ruthanne Schnell continues the work she’s been doing for years.

“I enjoy teaching,” Schnell said. “I didn’t want to let down the parents who bought

instruments believing their children would get free lessons in school.”

Schnell, who was a violin teacher with the Vicksburg Warren School District, is referring to the district’s decision to cut the strings program last year due to fiscal constraints. The program has been in peril for some time, largely because Mississippi doesn’t fund music instruction in schools, leaving individual districts to find the funding.

When the program was cut, Schnell could have easily gone home and enjoyed retirement, but she couldn’t bear the thought of all those young people missing the same opportunities to learn the joy of music that she did.

So, she simply kept teaching.

“I don’t need a job,” she said, laughing. “There were so many enthusiastic students just getting a foot in the door and I didn’t want all our good work wasted.”

She invited her former students to the Southern Cultural Heritage Center and began teaching groups and individuals. Schnell says she understands not all parents can afford pricey private lessons, so she offers the tutelage free of charge.

Most of the 25 students she teaches are those that studied under her at schools in the district, but she’s open to all different levels and “anybody who wants to take violin,” she said.

In fact, last Friday was the first time St. Francis second-grader Anna Di Stante, 7, ever played a violin.

“I like to use the bow, and it fits better than the cello,” Anna said. “I’ll have to close the door and lock it so my little brother doesn’t come in and jump on my bed.”

Fellow student Gabrielle Tevrett, 15, a sophomore at Warren Central, has been playing since she was a fifth-grader at Beechwood and was saddened by the school district’s decision to remove the program.

“I think it’s a disadvantage to our community,” she said. It is a good gift that could be lost.”

Schnell’s main purpose in continuing teaching is to keep the appreciation of classical music going. Her reasons, she said, go beyond music and into children’s development as a whole. Perhaps, she hopes, the district will see the value in a string program and find the funding to reinstate the program.

“It is so important to keep the enthusiasm alive because the students will become our future classical music-consuming public,” she said.