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Dulcimer class creates bond between Pinellas seniors and Our Lady of Lourdes students


At a time when people often communicate through texts and emails, a face-to-face intergenerational program in Dunedin has children and seniors making beautiful music together.

They call their group Harmonic Blends. Sixth-graders and older adults are taking turns teaching each other to play different musical instruments.

"Our Dedicated Dulcimers of Dunedin club partnered with Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School to teach a class of sixth-graders how to play the mountain dulcimer," said Roxie Smith. "The (city's) Hale Center purchased the instruments, and the dulcimer lessons became a part of the school's music program."

Every Thursday for eight weeks, six to eight club members alternated teaching 16 students to play the dulcimer, even giving one-on-one lessons when needed.

In April those roles will reverse. Sixth-graders will teach the seniors how to play handbells.

"I'm very excited about this program," said Carolyn Wong-Stark, music director at the school. "For a few years, Elaine Swinehart, director of the Hale Center, and I wanted to partner on some intergenerational program. What better platform to use than music?"

Wong-Stark has taught at Our Lady of Lourdes for 17 years. Smith has taught dulcimer lessons for years at the Hale Activities Center, plus she formed the Dedicated Dulcimers of Dunedin, established to keep students learning and playing together. The club members eagerly volunteered to rotate teaching the sixth-graders.

"My students had never played the dulcimer, but based on their testimonies, they've said it's a really neat instrument — soothing," Wong-Stark said. "We had no idea the members felt they were contributing to the children's overall development. The interaction has been wonderful."

Dulcimer club members can't say enough about the program. Pat Brophy of Dunedin has played the dulcimer for a year and taught school for 36 years.

"I come in with a smile and leave with a smile," said Brophy, 69. "The whole thing just makes me happy. The children are so enthusiastic. Mrs. Stark has done a wonderful job getting them acclimated as musicians."

Anita Johnston of Dunedin not only teaches, but she's still learning as a member of Smith's latest dulcimer class.

The children "have such a good attitude and learn fast," said Johnston. "They're really talented. It's neat they'll be teaching us handbells. We can learn so much from their generation, in lots of ways."

Laura Surell, 64, hadn't played an instrument until five months ago.

"The first lesson, I played a tune; that was exciting," said Surell. "It almost made me cry. This program is great and we're all so happy doing it."

Nancy Raisch, 75, drives from Palm Harbor each week to participate. She's played dulcimer a little more than a year and also plays the organ. Her father had a violin orchestra in Buffalo, N.Y.

"The kids we're teaching are good kids, happy kids. I have eight great-grandchildren and now I can't wait to teach them the dulcimer."

Don Savidge of Seminole says the good thing about the dulcimer is there's no right or wrong way to play.

"It's magnificent to teach youngsters," said Savidge, 64. "No matter how much you teach them, you learn."

Dunedin is proud of the group too. The city filmed the Harmonic Blends for the Spotlight on Dunedin television show, interviewing both students and adults. Recently, the group gave an intergenerational public performance by participating in a children's church service. In May they will play together for an awards banquet.

Smith said club members have fallen in love with the students. They talk openly about how much it's meant to be involved in the sixth-graders' lives. The children seem just as excited about the program.

Abby Trumbull, 12, has played the guitar for about three years and thought learning the mountain dulcimer would be exciting.

"This is a group you can learn from. And next, at the end of the eight weeks, we can teach them how to play handbells," said Abby. "It's been fun."

Scheduling was one of the toughest obstacles to overcome. According to Wong-Stark, the school's principal and Smith had to make special accommodations to set up the weekly lessons. She adds that the school does a lot of community outreach, but this time the situation was reversed. The community came to the students.

"Carolyn Wong-Stark is an enthusiastic supporter of this partnership," said Smith. "Without her support none of this would have happened. We bring together two populations that might otherwise not be together."

Smith talks about the spirit of community the program creates as being most important. She also mentions that seniors often live in adult-only condominiums and mobile home parks isolated from grandchildren and children in the community. The hope, according to Smith, is that the music program will create a long-term relationship between the school and the seniors.

If enthusiasm on the part of program participants plays any part in that decision, there should be no problem.

Jordan Watt, 12, beams when he talks about the class.

"At first I didn't even know what a dulcimer was," said Jordan.

"I liked learning about the dulcimer. I really like the sound the dulcimer makes, and strumming it makes you feel good. To me, it makes you feel like you're in the mountains."

Dulcimer class creates bond between Pinellas seniors and Our Lady of Lourdes students 03/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 7:42pm]
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