Violins, cellos, violas and the double bass have always been Priscilla Hallberg’s life passion, and she’d like to hear more people playing them in southwest Kansas.
Hallberg is the executive director and lead teacher of the String Academy of the Plains, a school dedicated to teaching aspiring string musicians of all ages throughout southwest Kansas.
Through the academy, Hallberg has been able to share her love of music and teach others. More than three years ago, in March 2012, she took her passion one step further when she started the Strings and Friends Concert Series.
Her hope was that by bringing professional string musicians to Garden City, it would do even more to inspire her students, as well as entertain area music lovers.
Hallberg said part of the intent of the Strings and Fiends Concert Series was to bring high caliber musicians to Garden City, something she felt was lacking in the community.
“I found it was possible to bring people out here,” she said.
But Hallberg also saw the opportunity to make instruction a part of the concert series by having the visiting musicians work with local string music students.
“When I started (asking people to come), I knew it would be a good thing to have classes with master artists and to allow students to make connections with them, some who were college professors,” she said.
She and her husband, Gordon, attended the Roland Fiddle Camp in Colorado in 2012, and were so impressed with the group Run Boy Run that she invited them to Garden City.
She attracted the Harrington String Quartet of Texas, and lined up a performance with her trio, Las Tres Gitanas, and all three performed at the same event.
That local concert was the first of many that Hallberg has helped organize.
Over time, she was able to convince Ohio jazz violinist Christian Howe and his trio, fiddle player Dan Levinson, concert violinist Brian Lewis and Fort Hays cellist Ben Cline to travel to and perform in Garden City.
She also was able to attract Elizabeth Suh Lane from Kansas City and Beau Bledsoe from Arkansas, who teamed together Oct. 10 to play classical and Spanish music.
The most recent concert, on Nov. 14, featured cellist Stephen Feldman, an associate professor of cello at the University of Central Arkansas. Hallberg performed on the violin and Linda Adams, a local resident, was the pianist at Feldman’s performance.
She said local string players and her students were able to see Feldman perform, and 10 students performed for him.
Next up for the concert series is a special visit on Dec. 19 by Grammy Award winning and world renowned conductor John McLaughlin Williams.
For this event, Hallberg is seeking community participation as she is hoping to assemble an orchestra of string musicians from around the region to be led by the famous conductor, who has received critical acclaim for his interpretive abilities and engaging podium presence.
Hallberg thinks Williams’ presence could entice string musicians to come together to create an orchestra. She said she needs at least 25 performers, and so far, she has 12.
“I hope it fosters a series of community players,” she said.
Hallberg is hoping that the combination of her string academy and the concert series will get more young people interested in string music.
While most public schools in Kansas have bands, the only high schools in southwest Kansas that use string instruments are in Dodge City and Garden City, which, she said, is a little disheartening.
“Learn to play at a young age,” she said. “It’s really good to play young.”
When there is a shortage of funds in a musical program, the strings portion is almost always the first part that is cut, she said.
“We don’t have a real strong classical drive here, and we should,” she said. “Kids don’t have anything and have never heard of a concert violinist.(Classical music) is the bedrock of culture.”
As for the upcoming concert with Williams, Hallberg hopes to find interested musicians from Finney County, southwest Kansas, and even surrounding states. She said the question is how to build an orchestra by the time Williams comes to Garden City.
“We will go after everyone we can find,” she said.
She said the Dec. 19 Christmas concert will include songs celebrating the holiday season. The concert is free, but donations will be accepted, and those will be used for string academy scholarships.
Hallberg does not know where the concert will be held, saying it depends on the size of the orchestra. She said it could be at Garden City Community College or Garden City High School, since school will not be in session on Dec. 19.
People interested in joining Hallberg’s orchestra can contact her at either (620) 275-4379, (620) 290-3168 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Future Strings and Friends concerts include Texas violinist Brian Lewis returning to Garden City in February and Toronto violinist Erika Raum visiting in May.