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5 Sources of Inspiration for Young Players (and the Young-at-Heart)

Classical music is great! But it isn’t always accessible for young students, and sometimes even those of us who play it and love it just want to have some heart-pounding fun on our instruments. Fortunately, we can do both – for proof, check out what these classically-trained musicians are playing: 

1.David Garrett –  

David Garrett has been a virtuoso classical violinist since he was a child. At 10 years old, he debuted with the Hamburger Philharmonic, and he has been performing as a soloist with professional symphonies ever since. But in his adulthood he’s also built a second career as a crossover artist, producing albums of pop covers and posting music videos on YouTube. This unconventional career-choice has lent him significant notoriety and acclaim – he has played to sold out audiences all over the world, received numerous accolades from cultural institutions, and even starred in 2013’s The Devil’s Violinist.  

However, Garrett’s genre-crossing isn’t just about expanding his audience; he is also working to expand the interests of his audience – particularly, he’s trying to turn his fans on to classical music. His pop covers don’t so much “cross” into the world of pop as draw pop music into classical contexts, effectively turning songs by Coldplay, Michael Jackson, Nirvana and others into violin concertos, complete with minutely arranged orchestral accompaniment. The result, executed through Garrett’s charismatically expressive playing, is something to see and hear. 

Check him out in these videos: Smells like Teen Spirit, Viva La Vida 

2. Time for Three –  

A personal favorite, this trio of highly accomplished classical musicians from the Curtis Institute and Philadelphia Symphony is notable for the musical depth of their pop covers, which are some of the most interesting and engaging available. Time for Three does not simply parrot formulaic pop tunes on stringed instruments – they add to and improve upon the original while keeping intact the musical structure that makes you like the song in the first place. For serious classical students who are turned off by most other pop string covers, Time for Three can offer a refreshing reminder that serious skill and fun need not be mutually exclusive.  

Check them out in these videos: Firework, Stronger 

3. Lindsey Stirling –  

These days, it’s almost impossible to play the violin without coming across Lindsey Stirling. Her steadily growing celebrity has flourished –mostly through YouTube- despite her early rejection from mainstream record labels. Today she has a whopping 11 million YouTube followers, and her videos regularly rack up tens of millions of views. While her flamboyant blend of pop-style violin playing and acrobatic dance moves isn’t for everyone, for a student who just isn’t inspired by what’s on the classical station she could be the right change of pace – because what Lindsey Stirling offers is not just a different style of music, but a whole new image of what a “violinist” can be. She is fully, and successfully, a pop musician: not only her covers, but also her originals are contagiously catchy and her videos are visually striking, full of entertaining narratives, and frequently quite funny.  

Check her out in these videos: Roundtable Rival, Prism  

4. 2Cellos –  

If Lindsey Stirling is the popstar of violinists, 2Cellos is the quintessential rock band of cellists. Rising to popularity around the same time (the 2010’s), 2Cellos similarly presents an alternative vision of who a cellist can be – in this case, a charismatic rockstar. The two conservatory-trained Croatians who make up the group exude the larger-than-life personas of rock guitarists, enthusiastically head-banging over their playing, jumping into their audiences in the middle of pieces, and falling dramatically to their knees, then their backs, then spinning in circles as they crunch out chords. While they offer fewer originals than Stirling, their covers have an electric energy and similarly entertaining narratives that often comment on stereotypes about classical musicians and their audiences.  

However! While 2Cellos does like to highlight it’s break from classical modes of music performance, it’s YouTube channel also features canonical classical pieces and classical pieces performed as rock music (see Vivaldi Storm)– an effective reminder that being “classically trained” doesn’t limit our ability to play whatever we like, however we’d like to. 

Check them out in these videos: Thunderstruck, Trooper Overture 

5. Damien Escobar –  

There are a few intriguing artists who perform under the label of hip-hop violinists. The highest profile currently might be “Black Violin” – who, by the way, will be coming to PPAC on April 3rd – but my favorite of what’s available on YouTube is Damien Escobar.  

Damien Escobar is one half of the group Nuttin’ But Strings, which gained notoriety in 2008 when it took third place on American’s Got Talent. That group has since disbanded, and Escobar is now a solo, self-styled hip-hop violinist also known as Dame Esco. In his YouTube videos, he plays sometimes frenetically quick, sometimes lyrically meandering lines over an R&B beat, occasionally throwing out an “oh yeah”,  or “that’s right” in the way of rappers between verses. His playing is improvisatory and spontaneous – he often seems to be riffing on a mood or a state of mind rather than playing a planned melody. And given this character of his music, one might reasonably guess that he comes from a jazz background – but interestingly, he doesn’t. Rather, Escobar emerges out of a decidedly classical world: he studied the violin at Julliard as a preteen and graduated when he was only thirteen years old.  

As a Julliard-trained African American violinist playing hip-hop, Escobar crosses a lot of social and cultural lines, breaking with expectations in ways that other crossover artists simply don’t. Because more than just genre-bending, Escobar addresses difficult questions about culture and identity, dwelling in his videos on themes of race, musical culture and self-actualization. However, in doing so he stays diligently positive. His music doesn’t so much critique the status quo as suggest possibilities for something different – an optimistic view of what could be, for himself, and for his audience. 

Check him out in these videos: Freestyle, Fuse

Instrument Maintenance Through the Seasons: Part 1

String instruments love stability – the less fluctuation in climate, the better they function and the longer they’ll stay in one piece. Unfortunately for all of us New England string players, weather here is anything but stable. Knowing what changes to expect through the seasons, and how to manage them, will help you keep your instrument playing well and sounding great all year long.

What to Expect in the Summertime:

String instruments are, of course, made of wood, and wood responds to changes in humidity by absorbing and releasing moisture from the air. In summer, the arrival of hot, humid air causes wood to absorb moisture –that is, to soften and swell. This can cause subtle changes in an instrument’s tone, but it also has the potential to create more obvious and problematic side effects.

Pegs – Pegs can swell so much in the summertime that they become difficult to turn. This usually happens gradually, and can be avoided by regularly using your pegs to tune. Even if your instrument consistently stays in tune, it is a good idea to loosen the pegs slightly once a week or so in the summer, and then tune the strings back up again.

Fingerboards – Softening of the wood that makes up the bodies of string instruments causes fingerboards to lower in relation to the bridge. In violins, violas, and children’s celli and basses, the change is usually not particularly noticeable. However, adult cello and bass players will notice their string height increasing as summer sets in, sometimes so much so that it becomes difficult to play. For this reason, bassists usually adjust their bridge height with the seasons, and most adult cellists have two bridges – one for summer, and one for winter.

Bows – You may have had the experience of noticing your bowhair tightening up or loosening over the course of a rehearsal or practice session, even though you haven’t tightened it or loosened it yourself. This is because bowhair responds to changes in humidity the same way that wood does. If your instrument has been in a space with relatively high humidity but your rehearsal is in a relatively dry space, your bowhair will respond to the environmental change by shrinking and tightening; if it goes from a dry space to a humid space, or as we go from dry winter months to humid summer months, it will tend to stretch and loosen. By July or August, bowhair that is already a bit on the long side is liable to become too long to tighten sufficiently for playing. If this occurs, be wary not to turn the bow screw too rigorously as you try to tighten the hair (it could get jammed and crack the end of the bow). In order to get it back into working condition, you’ll need to stop by your local shop to have the hair shortened or replaced. Very active players whose bows have not been rehaired recently are encouraged to get a rehair at the beginning of the season, so as to avoid any unplanned playing breaks.

Seams – Summer air-conditioning often creates quite dry indoor environments, even as the humidity rises outdoors. Instruments that are frequently exposed to wide differences in humidity (and consequently, to repeated cycles of swelling and shrinking) are more likely to develop seam openings. If you know that your instrument has been exposed to large differences in humidity recently –especially if it shows other responses to the changes, such as slipping/stuck pegs – it is a good idea to check for seam openings. If you find one, don’t worry – they are simple and inexpensive to fix (though sooner is better than later).

3 Ways to Play This Summer

The more students play, the more likely they are to keep playing! Teachers know that students who stay committed to their instrument over the summer months are more likely to stick with it into the following fall and beyond. Regular playing experiences, whether in private lessons, orchestra rehearsals, or just practicing at home, keep students motivated to continue.

How to keep them at it?

While simply holding onto the instrument and setting up a summer practice routine is a good start, having friends to play with and/or a performance to prepare for will keep practice interesting. And students who are interested in practicing are more likely to stick to a routine on their own, allowing parents to sit back, relax, and enjoy the music!


1. Private lessons


  • One-on-one format allows teachers to focus on students’ individual needs, streamlining progress and helping to avoid technical setbacks.
  • Weekly lessons function as mini solo performances, motivating students to progress from week to week.
  • Private teachers act as musical mentors and models, encouraging students to see themselves as future musicians and facilitating long-term goal-setting.

Best for:

Everyone! Especially students who have begun to plateau and aren’t sure how to progress.

Things to keep in mind:

For any enthusiastic string player, private lessons can make a big difference. However, some students are particularly motivated by group-playing experiences, and for these students its a good idea to look into small-group lessons or to supplement private lessons with participation in an orchestra or small ensemble. (Check out our current Friend’s Lesson Special, which might be just the right fit!)

Local teachers: contact us for a teacher referral or to schedule a lesson!

2. Summer orchestra programs


  • Allows students to build friendships with other young players at similar ability levels.
  • Gives students a performance to prepare for
  • Weekly rehearsals give students the ability to check their own progress and make weekly goals.

Best for: 

  • Students who are most motivated by playing with others.
  • Those who started learning with a private teacher and have not yet had an opportunity to play in an ensemble.

Things to Keep in Mind: 

Playing in an orchestra is much different than playing alone or even in unison with others. In an orchestra, different groups of instruments play at different times and students have to learn to keep track of the music in order to play the right notes at the right time. Prepare your student to expect a challenge at his or her first rehearsal, and encourage him or her not to give up if he/she feels lost at first – things get easier quickly and he/she’ll soon find him/herself having a lot of fun.

Local programs:

South Kingstown Summer Strings

Thursdays, 6-7:30pm @ Broad Rock School, June 29th – August 17th

Fee: $72 SK residents, $82 non-residents

Applications available at the shop!

3. Strings camp 


  • Summer camps provide students with a big boost in motivation and ability that can carry them through the rest of the season.
  • A rewarding summer camp experience is one students will look forward to year after year – keeping them playing so they can keep going back.

Best for:

  • Enthusiastic students looking for an immersive musical experience
  • Students in need of a little inspiration

Things to keep in mind:

As when picking a private teacher, look for a camp that fits your students interests, ability level and learning style. If your student already has a private teacher, he or she can provide valuable advice on what programs to look into.

Local Camps:

URI Strings Week, July 10th – 15th

More info available at the Strings Week website!

The End of the Trip

It never seems we’ve had enough time at the end of these trips. In the last few days, the energy among the volunteers becomes tangible – we can all feel the end coming, and want to get everything done that we can before time runs out.

In our last week, I finished up as much of the instrument maintenance and set up work as I could. I rehaired bows, replaced pegs, changed strings, and cut and installed bridges and soundposts. I prepared larger instruments for the “littles” (our youngest students) who were ready to move up in size, and updated our inventory records and instrument assignments.

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While I was working on instruments in the mornings, most of the rest of the volunteers went out to bike maintenance/repair visits for girls who have received bikes through the RPS Bikes for Girls program. These were led by Jane and Steve Ewashkiw, yoga instructors and long-distance bicyclists, who joined us for the last week and a half of the trip.

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We also held two Eyeglass Giveaway events, in which we gave away reading glasses to elderly members of the local community, and we paid one last visit to the village of Son Tan to lead another weekend art class.

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On weekday afternoons, we continued teaching art and music in Cam Duc. With our music students, we were preparing for a final concert to be held at a local café for family and friends. All the kids were working hard, practicing a lot at home and coming to long lesson/rehearsals. When the time came the concert went off without a hitch – everyone from the littles to the teachers performed, and we even had two soloists: Vy, one of our older students, and Huy, originally a student and now one of our local teachers.

After all was said and done, it was time to say goodbye – and no one says goodbye like our students in Cam Duc. I’ve never felt more appreciated than I do at the Cam Duc farewell party at the end of every trip. There is always singing (songs about saying goodbye and meeting again), gifts for everyone from just about everyone, a giant, beautiful cake, and all kinds of improvised games. And of course, there are always some tears. After a month working with the music and art students, it’s hard to leave them behind, and hard for them to see us go. But eventually, the trip has to end. Early on Thursday morning we gave our last hugs, waved our last goodbyes, and got on the plane to Saigon.

Thanks again to Rich and Wesley, and also to Cathy Jorin, for the photos I used in this post.

Art, Music, and Bikes

A lot can happen in a few days here. A few days after our arrival in Cam Duc, we had already attended one of RPS’s bike givings, held our first art and music classes for students in the Cam Duc programs, visited RPS’s art program in the ethnic minority village of Son Tan, and made time for a Saturday trip to Nha Trang where we collected art supplies, relaxed at a cafe, and had some delicious vegetarian food.

The Bike Giving 

RPS’s bike givings take place throughout the year, whenever the nonprofit raises enough funds to hold one. In Vietnam, children get to school by foot or by bike, sometimes traveling several miles or more. Because school takes place in two daily sessions – one in the morning, and one in the evening – they cover that distance 4 times a day. A bicycle can make the difference between going or staying home. This is particularly true of girls, whose brothers usually get priority when it comes to making the difficult decision about who will stay in school when finances are tight.


During our trips, we attend the bike givings as RPS representatives. There’s a short ceremony, speeches given by officials from the Vietnamese Red Cross, the local school, and one of the girls who will be receiving a bike. When we’re here, one of us will usually speak too. Plenty of photographs are taken and we help to adjust seats, handlebars, and helmet straps. Then the girls pedal off for home.


Strings Class

RPS’s strings students in Cam Duc have been working with their local instructors (who in turn have been studying with a professional violin teacher in Nha Trang) all year long. Our visit gives them a chance to show off what they’ve learned and get feedback from experienced string players and teachers from outside their community. On Friday we walked over to the house where RPS holds its classes to see our music students for the first time and see what progress they’ve made since last summer.

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Art Class in Son Tan

Son Tan is an ethnic minority village located at the base of the mountains about 30 minutes from Cam Duc. Son Tan is a very poor village, and children there grow up under particularly difficult circumstances. Most will drop out of school by the 5th grade.  RPS has been running an art class there on the weekends for about a year, giving the kids an outlet where they can relax, use their imaginations, and relieve the some of the stress of everyday life. The classes also allow RPS to keep track of the children in the program, encourage school attendance, and help support families wherever possible.

At the art class we attended on Sunday, the students made their own booklet out of cardboard and cardstock – a great project, since the only notebooks they normally have are those required for school. Credit goes to Sierra, one of our volunteers, for designing and leading Sunday’s class.

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Thanks to our excellent photographer and videographer, Rich Ferri, for the pics of the music and arts classes!