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Press Release


Jean Oelrich
Director of Marketing & Communications
(714) 876-2380

Pacific Symphony and Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana reignite Santa Ana Strings, a Heartstrings program providing free violin instruction for 2nd-5th graders

Orange County, Calif. — May 29, 2015

Smiles of joy and excitement lit up the faces of 50 elementary school children when they each received a new, shiny violin to take home during the re-launch in January of Pacific Symphony’s Santa Ana Strings (SAS), a Heartstrings program. Thanks to a partnership between the Symphony and the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana (BGCSA), SAS returned for a six-month pilot program (with plans to expand to year-round) that provides after-school violin instruction by Symphony and volunteer musicians. SAS is inspired by El Sistema, the international model defined as an intensive youth music program seeking to effect social change through the pursuit of musical excellence. Serving elementary school students living in Santa Ana, the program is designed to foster creativity, perseverance and self-esteem as well as develop teamwork skills through the study and practice of the violin.

Now in its fourth season, SAS continues to grow and improve each year. Since its recent launch under the new partnership, SAS has been encouraged by two successful concerts—the first receiving the largest showing of parent and family support in BGCSA’s history, and the second, which took place at a recent Symphony’s Family Musical Mornings. Now SAS gears up for its final pilot performance at the BGCSA on June 10. For more information on SAS and the Symphony’s Heartstrings program—a major community-wide program providing free access to concerts, hands-on enrichment activities and transportation for underserved local residents in partnership with Orange County agencies—contact Mary Hawkes, director of community engagement, at (714) 876-2339 or

“When I hold my violin, I feel proud of myself,” one SAS student has written in his journal. “I also feel confident. I feel like I could do anything. When I hear the violin, I think it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Since its inception, the program has truly been special and touched so many young students’ lives in a positive way,” says Adam Neeley, SAS teaching artist and Symphony violist. “With this new iteration, we are able to create an instructional style that focuses completely on enriching the students’ lives in every way that we can through musical instruction. At every opportunity, we strive to teach important life skills through music, such as discipline, togetherness, communication and self-motivation. I don’t hesitate at all after only a few short months to say that it is working.”

SAS takes place after school, Monday-Friday at the BGCSA, for students who have elected to participate in the program. “The initial number of interested students was larger than we originally anticipated, which is great!” says Elizabeth Aguilar, the chief operating officer of the BGCSA. “We are very impressed by how seriously the students are taking this program and the level of commitment they have at such a young age.”

Mondays and Tuesdays, students receive group lessons from their “Symphony Star,” Neeley. On Wednesdays, Neeley is joined by additional Symphony musicians—Agnes Gottschewski, Christine Frank, Dana Freeman, Carolyn Riley, Shelly Shi and Ayako Sugaya—who provide hands-on instruction for small groups of two-three students to refine what they are learning in the group sessions. On Thursdays and Fridays, volunteer musicians work with students who would like additional instruction or extra time to practice. With the focused attention of the musicians and the small musician-student ratio each Wednesday, students are learning faster than they have in any other prior year of SAS.

 “Not only are our kids wonderfully progressing in terms of how quickly they are picking up violin technique and musical skill, but I can already see the impact our program is having on them in other ways,” says Neeley. “Nothing could be more rewarding than seeing first-hand their eagerness to work hard, and then be able to share their sense of accomplishment with me, their family and their peers.

“What began for these students as an after-school activity has quickly become something they are proud of and invested in,” he continues. “My hope for this class is that by the end of our first six months together, the students will truly feel like young violinists, and that the pride in being a violinist will blossom and become part of each of their self-identities.”

The expanded partnership between the Symphony and BGCSA offers many benefits for the SAS program. “Moving this program from a school-based model to a community site has provided wonderful opportunities for us to engage with students, starting as early as second grade, to plan for a multiyear continuum to ensure that students will receive ongoing instruction,” says Mary Hawkes, director of community engagement for the Symphony. “This allows them to grow with the program throughout their school life, and allows our Symphony and volunteer musicians to have a deeper, more meaningful connection to the program and students.

“We are making an important difference in the lives of children and their families, and using the violin as our instrument to build long-lasting relationships within this community,” she continues. “I’m overjoyed SAS has found a new home at the BGCSA and to see this vision unfold.”

Located in the heart of Santa Ana, BGCSA has brought stability to Santa Ana neighborhoods that have seen drugs, teen pregnancy and gang-related violence rock their foundations. Their mission is to promote the positive and healthy development of youth, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, by providing services that build the skills, civility and self-confidence necessary to succeed.