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Student Musicians Thrive in the Menuhin-Dowling Scholar Program
Lily Brown
A group of Menuhin students and teachers pose for a photo

"When words divide us, music unites us.” A favorite saying of violin instructor Sin-Tung Chiu, who teaches his Menuhin-Dowling students to live by the values inherent in this aphorism. When asked about the most meaningful aspect of the Menuhin Program, eighth grader Audrey A. couldn’t choose just one.

“The teachers are incredible," she said. "My violin teacher (Sin-Tung Chiu) has taught me so many new things over the years, and I’ve improved as a musician so much through his coaching.”

Audrey also reflected on how much she appreciates the community offered by the Menuhin Program. “It is really cool to be able to meet and become friends with this group of students who share the same passion for music as me.”

The Menuhin-Dowling Scholar Program, named for Yehudi Menuhin and Helen Dowling, both violinists, is a performance-driven Nueva music program for instrumental and vocal musicians in grades one through eight, with the goal of extending the program to the Upper School. Currently, the program is directed by Mandy Chiu, coordinated by Steve Chanan (the current Director of Music at Nueva and a former Menuhin piano scholar himself), and includes eighteen students at the Nueva Lower and Middle Schools. Students in the Menuhin Program play in small chamber ensembles together, take two 45-minute music lessons per week, and each month attend a luncheon, where they either perform for one another and receive peer feedback or participate in an enrichment activity such as having a visiting artist attend and talk with them.

"The whole essence of the program is that we're making a music conservatory system available to students at Nueva,” Mandy said.

Some of the highlights from the Menuhin program this year included students attending a concert at the San Francisco Jazz Center to listen to Natalie Cressman, a singer-songwriter, trombonist, and the daughter of Sandy Cressman, Nueva’s vocal teacher. Natalie then came to a luncheon to speak to Menuhin Scholars, sharing what it’s like to go on a tour as a musician.

“It’s wonderful for the students to see the outside world of music from inside their world,” said Sin-Tung, who has taught violin at Nueva and been with the Menuhin Program since 1991.

Music teacher Sin-Tung plays violin with a piano accompaniment

On Tuesday, June 5, Sin-Tung and Dmitriy Cogan, who met at Nueva in 1993, played a twenty-fifth anniversary violin and piano duet concert in the mansion ballroom. Dmitriy was himself a Menuhin Scholar at Nueva from 1974 to 1976 and  taught piano at Nueva from 1996 to 2004. At the event, current Menuhin Scholars sat in rapt attention, listening to the musicians play the Franz Schubert–themed program.

Sin-Tung also reflected on the self-directed learning in which Nueva students naturally engage. “What I love about the students is that they’re constantly thinking about their music. They go to their teachers and share what they want to play. They take the initiative.”

Mira D., an eighth grader, joined the program in 2012 as a “shy, beginner pianist,” but feels she has developed musicality and become more “confident and responsible” through her work in the program. “My favorite part of the program is being part of a community of musicians that share the love of music with me," Mira said. "I am so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work with incredible teachers, guest musicians, and fellow students.”

Indeed, Sin-Tung has taught generations of Nueva students, including Upper School history teacher and Nueva alumnus Brian Cropper, who commented, “Sin-Tung embodies the goals of the Menuhin Program. Lessons were challenging, the pieces and exercises we practiced together were technical, but playing the violin was beautiful. Sin-Tung instilled in me respect for the hard work of this artistic and technical craft.”

Sin-Tung and all of the music teachers in the Menuhin program clearly serve as role models for their students, and collaboration is an important value in the program, both in terms of students giving each other feedback and students playing music together.

Four students sing together

"We love that our Menuhin scholars play in small instrumental ensembles, duos, or voice ensembles. The special aspect is that students will go back and forth between different teachers when they are playing in ensembles and thus receive coaching from different teachers,” Mandy said.

In addition to collaboration, Menuhin Scholars also engage in service learning. For the past several years, Sin-Tung has taken Menuhin Scholars to senior citizen communities “to perform as a community service.”

Thomas H., a seventh grader, summarized his feelings about his experience in the program. “The Menuhin Program has helped me expand my musical horizons vastly. I love the opportunities that the program gives you to perform and share your music with others.”

 By Lily Brown, Upper School English Teacher

June 13, 2018

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