program Dorothy Gerber Springs turns 20 | Characteristics

The string is the thing
By Brighid Driscoll | December 11, 2021

In 2000, a musician named Karey Sitzler was working as the director of education for the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey. Much of his work was devoted to touring local art students through CTAC galleries. The other part of her job – the smaller part, which had drawn her to the job – was conducting the art centre’s youth orchestra.

“I was so excited for the first rehearsal,” she says, “and when I walked through the door I think there were about 12 kids. “

Barely an orchestra. And although she was excited about the challenge of the different skill levels of the kids – some had only played a few months; others had the luxury of private lessons – Sitzler was overwhelmed by the number of students. In an attempt to fatten up the orchestra, she went to see her bosses, full of questions.

“[I asked,] “Who feeds this? ” she says. “How do we build it? Where are the children? I have to shake some bushes or something. They said, ‘Well, actually our schools here don’t have [strings] programs. ‘”

A dismayed Sitzler – and also a certified teacher in the state of Michigan – walked up to the principal of Petoskey’s public schools.

She offered a deal: she would teach elementary students for free every week, in exchange for a school giving her dedicated time and space to do so.

“They thought this sounded like a great idea, so we started at Petoskey,” she says. One vacant classroom and one hour per week was enough for the ropes program to sweep through the region. Other schools in northern Michigan began to adopt it, and by the end of its freshman year, Sitzler says, 17 schools had signed up to host the ropes program.

“I felt like every two months I started 30 more kids, or 60,” she says. “Going out to Beaver Island was the epitome of it because I think they had 69 kids in school that year, and 63 of them were in the program. It was pretty cool.

At the end of 2001, all participating students from the program schools got together and gave a concert in Bay View. The performance was unforgettable: “It was incredible. It was a real treat for me to see a bit of the fruit of my labor and so many people who love to play, ”said Sitzler.

Peter and Gay Cummings were in the audience that night and were so enamored with the passion and talent of the students that they were inspired to fund the program in the future, naming it after Gay’s mother. , Dorothy Gerber, co-founder of Gerber Baby Foods.

Today, the Dorothy Gerber Strings program is in its 20th year serving Charlevoix, Emmet and Antrim counties. Although the program has grown over the years, its main impact has remained the same: it allows students aged four to 18 to receive free lessons, as well as opportunities to perform as part of young and old. sets. Its host organization is the Great Lakes Center for the Arts in Bay Harbor, and for the past four years the Music Director of DGSP has been Dr. David Reimer. Reimer, who has her doctorate in violin performance, teaches with a team of nine other musicians, all with extensive training: Trisha Berquist, Iuliia Fetysenko, Peter Tolias, Beth Deininger, Byron Farrar, Becky Palmiter, Elizabeth Bert, Maggie Stewart and Karen Jervey.

Today, classes continue to be held in classrooms and churches across the region, but many take place inside the acoustically inspired Great Lakes Center for the Arts. The range of program offerings has also widened. Beginner, junior and intermediate classes are available; all classes, regardless of level, last one hour, twice a week. Students who have never played an instrument stay at the beginner level for a year before moving up the ranks. Students who demonstrate exceptional energy and skill can join the Dorothy Gerber Strings Youth Orchestra, although this is not a given.

“This is the top of our program,” Reimer says of the orchestra. “They are the most advanced students and they audition to enter the orchestra. They play the most advanced music and also take private lessons. They can come from anywhere in our program, and yes, they were newbies at one point.

A unique aspect of DGSP is that it also teaches music to children who do not yet have the finger skills to hold a pencil or write. It uses the Suzuki Method, developed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki. Based on the belief that any properly trained child can become a talented musician, Suzuki uses many of the same techniques used in teaching languages. Starting children as young as three years old, Suzuki believed that children are able to nurture a love and propensity for music that will inspire talent and good personality for the rest of their lives. Due to the young age of the students, parental involvement is part of the program.

Reimer, who started playing the violin at age four, says the early development of musical skills can have a positive impact that lasts a lifetime.

“[Music training] develops discipline. There is all cognitive development in terms of brain activity. With learning music and an instrument, you cross between the right and left sides of the brain. A lot of people tend to think of the arts for the expressive part, but with an instrument it’s also very logical, mechanical and intellectual too. You use your hands, your ears, and then you coordinate it all from your brain. It just stimulates a lot of personal growth.

Want to know more about the Dorothy Gerber Strings program? Visit For interviews with former teachers and students – many of whom are now professional musicians – search for “Dorothy Gerber Strings” on Facebook.


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