Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
On Saturday, Whitehead Auditorium in Valdosta State University's Fine Arts Building was filled with art, music and the joyful laughter of little children as the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and the Valdosta Symphony Guild presented the annual Tunes for Tots.
"It's a great opportunity to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra," said co-chair of Tunes for Tots, Amy Neal. "We hope some will want to play an instrument or as they get older, want to hear the orchestra perform."
Neal — who is no stranger to music considering she's on the symphony guild and her husband Dr. Paul Andrew Neal is VSU's choral director — brought her two sons, 4 and a half year old Andrew and 3 year old Christopher.
"They love it," said Neal. "They love that they get to touch the instruments because normally we say, don't touch!"
Over the years, music programs in schools throughout the country have been reduced and even eliminated due to budget cuts. Programs such as Tunes for Tots and the South Georgia String Project, led by VSU director and master teacher Lauren Burns, hope to find ways to bring music into children's lives and express the importance of art and culture.
"We need future musicians or we won't have an orchestra in 25 years," said Neal.
The South Georgia String Project — winner of the 2011 National String Project of the Year — is a joint venture of the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and the Department of Music at VSU. It serves a dual purpose, providing an after-school music program where children can easily access low-cost stringed instrument instruction, and providing valuable, mentored teaching experience for music students at VSU.
The String Project, comprised of musicians ages 8 years and up, performed Saturday for an auditorium of more than 200 children and their parents. It provided children an excellent visual of where their musical ambitions can lead them.
After the performance, children were turned loose throughout the first floor of the Fine Arts Building where they touched and played a plethora of instruments by 13 different musicians.
"Today, it's all about the kids," said Neal.
Parent George Alvarez brought his 6 year old daughter Miranda and his 5 year old son Manny to Tunes for Tots with the hope of getting them more interested in music.
"We want to expose our kids to culture and musical instruments," said Alvarez.
Three year old Addilyn Presley practically dragged her mother Nikki Presley to the event Saturday because, despite her young age, she has a taste for sophisticated music.
"She loves classical music," said Presley.
Even musical novices, such as 11 year old Will Correll, were introducing children younger than himself to his viola.
"This is only his first semester in the String Project," said Will's mother, Scarlet Brown.
Into the afternoon, tots were plucking strings, banging drums, buzzing trombones, blowing into oboes, shaking maracas, tapping tambourines, and experiencing all that music has to offer in a fun and encouraging environment.