Centre turns 10
by Celia Shortt
(Editor's Note: This is the second in an occasional series, Centre Celebrates 10th, highlighting Coweta School System's Centre for Performing and Visual Arts and the impact it has had in the local community for the last ten years. The first installment was published Feb. 2.)
Over the last decade, the Coweta School System’s Centre for Performing and Visual Arts has brought many valuable opportunities to Coweta County, and one of its greatest is Centre Strings, a string orchestra for students and adults in the community.
Throughout 2014, the Centre on Lower Fayetteville Road is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Centre Strings is a joint venture between the school system and community which began in 2004, the same year the Centre opened. It is a community string orchestra with members from ages eight to 84. It is a non-competitive group built on community, morale, and mentorship.
“I did this as an experiment,” said Dr. Lyn Schenbeck, leader of Centre Strings. “I had never done an orchestral group without auditions before.”
Don Nixon, director of the Centre, remembers the group formed after he hired Schenbeck to work as faculty in a middle school.
Schenbeck, Coweta’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, became a professional musician when she started on the New York musical theater stage at age 13. Seven years later, at the age of 20, she started teaching. “I have always, always wanted to teach,” said Schenbeck.
Schenbeck has been an educator for more than 40 years and in that time has taught all over the country and at all levels of education.
When she came to the Coweta County School System, she began teaching music and organizing strings classes at Smokey Road Middle School.
“I got to Coweta in October,” she remembered. “I had no classroom, supplies, instruments, or students. My colleagues volunteered rooms, and everyone was supportive. I loved it there! I found this new form of energy.”
Nixon said Schenbeck’s music ability was so great she needed to “expand it to the community.”
“(We) came up with the idea to put together a strings group,” he said.
This group would have older and more experienced musicians as well as younger musicians who were still learning their craft, and the older musicians would mentor the younger ones.
“Adults (are) mentoring students,” said Schenbeck. “Students are getting help they wouldn’t get in a normal student orchestra.”
Nixon has personally seen this mentorship in action and knows it works.
“My own daughter was part of Centre Strings,” he said. “She had a mentor. They were able to advance much more quickly.”
“It’s a win-win for the community,” he added. “You have people who have studied music and are looking for somewhere to play and younger musicians who are looking to learn.”
The mentorship in the group does allow for increased talent among the members, but it also fosters a sense of community for everyone involved in the group.
“Whenever somebody in the orchestra is in trouble, everyone rallies around them,” said Schenbeck. “I would take conducting an orchestra like this over another any day because of the morale.”
Another element to the community in the orchestra Schenbeck enjoys is having young musicians start in the group and continue on as they get older.
“I love watching kids grow up,” she said. “It’s part of the fun I have.”
Allison Vessell is 13 years old and in the seventh grade at Arnall Middle School. She has been a part of Centre Strings since she was 8.
Vessell enjoys being in the orchestra and expressing herself through music. She also enjoys the mentoring aspect of it and believes everyone benefits from it.
“The older people get to help the younger people, and the younger people get to say when they’re older they grew up doing something they enjoyed,” she said.
Vessell also plays clarinet in her school band and the piano. Even with those other opportunities, she plans to be involved with Centre Strings as long as possible.
“I get to put my energy in what I play and speak through my music,” she said. “It makes me feel good. So, when I’m in a bad mood, I pick up an instrument and play, and it makes me feel better.”
At 84, Anne Goodell is the oldest member of Centre Strings. She joined the group because she had friends in it and because of her violin teacher Billy Farmer. Goodell has been taking violin lessons off and on for about 20 years.
“I just enjoy playing,” she said. “She (Schenbeck) picks good music and is fun to work with.”
Schenbeck has just as much fun leading the orchestra as the musicians have playing in it. She enjoys being able to be creative in her music choices and in how she runs the group.
“There are no attitudes,” she added. “I don’t believe in competition. Why should we deal with it in a setting built on community?”
The Centre Strings community is also built on mutual respect for everyone involved.
“They have to earn my respect, and I have to earn theirs,” said Schenbeck of the musicians. “We respect each other.”
For all her work with Centre Strings, Schenbeck is not paid monetarily. Rather, she sees it as a service to the community.
“I think it is a valuable community service (where) the lives of its members and the community… will be enriched,” she said.
Centre Strings rehearses every Tuesday evening when school is in session from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. If interested in joining, call Schenbeck at 678-423-2000, ext. 272.