When you walk into the auditorium during Steve Luchs' violin class at Crown Point Junior Music Academy, it's a startling sight. Thirty kindergartners, all clutching violins and bows, are warming up their instruments as their parents stand by them.
Sure, there's a lot of scampering and giggling, too — after all, they are kindergartners. But when they all start to play together, it's magical.
These kids can play! And what's more amazing, so can their parents! In fact, the parents are required to learn the violin three months before their children can be enrolled in the program.
At Crown Point Junior Music Academy on Ingraham Street, the school's curriculum is integrated with music. Even math and science classes have musical connections. The enrollment is currently at 354 students.
The Suzuki Violin Program is run by one instructor, Luchs, who's been leading it for 10 years now. He's the only certified Suzuki teacher with a California teaching credential in San Diego.
The story of how this program — and this school — came to be is a rare one in the history of San Diego Unified School District. In 2008, Crown Point Elementary School was about to close due to a drop in enrollment and low test scores. It was the district superintendent's idea to put a Suzuki Magnet Program in place to attract more students by offering a music-centered curriculum.
The Suzuki Method — created by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzukito (1898–1998) after World War II to bring music to the devastated lives of the children in his country — is based on the theory that because young children learn languages easily, if one creates an environment for learning music which parallels the linguistic environment, children would acquire musical skills. Suzuki believed such an environment would also help foster good moral character.
The district renamed the school "Crown Point Junior Music Academy," and Luchs was given a generous budget to start his program. Most of the violins were bought that first year at $400 each.
"This program isn't taught anywhere else," Luchs explained. "I don't know of any other public school with a program like this, anywhere."
Luchs said he received his Suzuki training at Southern Illinois University , where he earned a master's degree in violin performance. He was a graduate teaching assistant with world-renowned violinist John Kendall, who was the first American to study with Dr. Suzuki. Luchs has also played with the San Diego Symphony and the San Diego Chamber Orchestra.
When he started at Crown Point Junior Music Academy, he only taught the class one day a week to kindergartners and first-graders. Then, the program took off. "The program was so successful that enrollment tripled, and there was a waiting list to get in after a year," he humbly boasted. Now Luchs works three days a week and teaches 150 students in grades K-5.
Connecting through music
Catalina Valenzuela and her kindergarten daughter, Nalani, are in the program. "It was a little difficult for her at first because she's never played an instrument," Valenzuela said. "But now it's really fun. It's a way for us not only to play an instrument together, but bond, too. She loves having me in the classes and that makes it much more special for both of us."
Second-grader Serenity Reyes-Nielsen looks up into her dad's eyes adoringly as she explains: "Ever since I was very little, I loved music because my dad played his guitar for me." Now, she gets to play with her dad. "It's very special to me," she gushes. "I just like music a lot."
Her dad Dave Nielsen adds: "To be able to work with her and learn from each other, and to kind of get to know each other in a different way, is so great. We're both students at the same time. We're equals in a very awesome way."
The students perform at concerts throughout the year, often split into groups by age. There's a big concert at the end of the year where all students perform the Twinkle Variations.
The program is partnered with Classics for Kids, a nonprofit professional orchestra that performs at Balboa Theater for school-age children throughout the county.
"For the past six years, we've been invited to perform with them," Luchs said. "We get our own dressing room, we come in the stage door, it's just really neat. The kids get to see what it's like behind the scenes. I'm really proud of that because we're the only school invited to do that."
• WANT TO KNOW MORE? Crown Point Junior Music Academy welcomes students in grades K-5 at 4033 Ingraham St. Principal Armando Lopez's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org Reach the school office at (858) 987-5500, website is sandiegounified.org/schools/crown-point
Fun Violin Facts
• Playing the violin entails holding the instrument under the chin, supported by the left shoulder. The strings are sounded either by drawing the bow across them (arco), or by plucking them (pizzicato).
• The violin has four strings that are tuned in fifths. The scientific pitch of the strings from lowest to highest is: G3, D4, A4 and E5.
• While playing the violin you burn 170 calories an hour.
• Violins are generally either maple or spruce.
• Violinists are able to use both sides of the brain better than most non-violinists. —theviolinsite.com