String-a-Palooza offers music and lessons to children

Kids can tone their minds as they tune their instruments at the String-a-Palooza, the children's music fair of the Western Kansas String Academy of Fort Hays State University.

Pre-school children and older can play games and instruments from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at FHSU's Memorial Union. The registration deadline is Nov. 2.

Sponsored by the FHSU Western Kansas String Academy and the Fort Hays State University chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota, String-a-Palooza is a free event designed to introduce kids to the joys of playing a musical instrument.

"Music is such a wonderful, life-enriching activity for children to become involved in, even at an early age," said Cathy Drabkin, executive director of the WKSA. "It's one of the few gifts you can give your child that can grow and stay with them for life."

Activities for school children and older include an instrument petting zoo, a pre-school song circle, a tour of world in music, a make-your-own instrument station, and a guess-that-instrument game.

Three special features are a performance by "Berlioz the Bear," a troubadour harp performance and free group lessons.

In the classic picture book by Jan Brett, Berlioz the bass-playing bear and his band run into trouble on the way to the country ball. A whole host of characters try to help him out, with a surprise animal coming to the rescue at the end. FHSU and WKSA string and guitar students present a musical and dramatic reading of the story, with Jordan Bollig, Schoenchen sophomore, cast as Berlioz and Dr. Doug Drabkin, associate professor of philosophy, narrating. The musical score was composed by Makenzi Rempe, Plainville senior, and the production is directed by Katie Steinert, Lyons senior.

Other performances during the morning include the WKSA Fiddlers and Guitar Class and the Hays High School string-rock group, Steel Wool.

Dr. Cathy Clewitt, assistant professor of physics, is demonstrating the troubadour harp, a floor-sized instrument typically used for traditional or folk music. Clewitt is a semi-professional harpist who has played Celtic and classical harp for more than 25 years. She has performed with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, the Grinnell College Orchestra and the St. Louis Philharmonic as well as multiple chamber groups. She was a founding member of Celtic Coyotes, an Albuquerque, N.M., Celtic band, and frequently performed dance music for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society in New Mexico.

Other instrument demonstrations during the morning include a viola da gamba (an ancestor of the modern string family) and electric violins, violas and cellos.

Throughout the morning, WKSA staff will offer free group classes on violin, cello or guitar for children kindergarten age or older. Child-sized instruments will be provided. Each half-hour group class will be limited to ten students. The basics of each instrument will be taught with the idea of giving children and their parents a taste of what it is like to learn to play an instrument.

"We saw a need to help parents and students explore the idea of learning to play an instrument before committing time and money," said Drabkin. "Starting to play is a big decision, but how do you know which instrument, or if your kid will really enjoy it?"

There is no fee for the lessons, but students must register by Nov. 2 to ensure enough instruments of the proper size are on hand. Instruments for the morning will be provided by KC Strings and Roosevelt Elementary.

String-a-Palooza is funded in part by a grant from the Sigma Alpha Iota Philanthropies Inc., the charitable arm of the national music fraternity. Additional sponsors include Yamaha Strings, KC Strings, Tom's Music House, High Plains Public Radio, the D'Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts and the Kansas Arts Commission.

For additional information, to register for group lessons, or for a copy of the morning's schedule, contact Cathy Drabkin at (785) 628-5363 or e-mail her at

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