Lynchburg City Schools Strings Honors Mrs. Ginger Paris and Gives Back to Future Music Students

In 1970, Rudy Hazucha started a pilot music program to four Lynchburg City Schools. The music program aimed to teach children violin under the Suzuki method, a mid-20th-century music curriculum and teaching philosophy created by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist. Under this method, students learn violin in a way that mirrors how one learns a native language, through immersion and beginning at a young age.

By 1971, Lynchburg City Schools had implemented the program district-wide and LCS Strings was born.

“After Rudy Hazucha started a pilot Suzuki program at LCS in 1970, the administration decided to implement the program citywide,” explained Ellen Habitzruther in January 2024 at a Lynchburg City Strings event. “We were hired in 1971 for such a purpose. I remember traveling to many schools in a week’s time. Parents were required to attend the lessons of their children in grades 1 to 3. Many parents continued to attend throughout the elementary years. Bruce [Habitzruther, husband and fellow LCS teacher], a cellist, was to introduce the cello at the elementary level. At the onset, this became a somewhat difficult task. Small cellos were difficult to secure and the rental expense was much more than the violin rental. Being a bigger instrument, transporting a cello on the school bus was an issue. Consequently, only a few cellos were added to the elementary program. Beginning a cello class became more successful at the middle school level. A few violin students switched to the cello and an orchestra program was started. Study of the viola also became an option.”

“It was hoped that this program would encourage families to remain in public school rather than move to private school,” Ginger Paris, Lynchburg City Strings teacher from 1974 to 2024 remembered at a Lynchburg City Strings event in January 2024. “The pilot was so successful that the following year, 1971, Bruce and Ellen Habitzruther came and all elementary schools had Suzuki Violin. Parents were required to attend the twice weekly lessons and students could start in 3rd grade without a parent present. We continued this until Dr. Brabrand and Al Coleman required us to offer even first graders to participate without a parent. I still strongly encourage first grade parents to attend.”

In 2023, Paris began her 50th year of instructing Lynchburg City Strings students under the Suzuki method. As the current director of Lynchburg City Strings, Paris has helped build an incredible music program that has benefited countless students. It’s because of her tenacity and dedication that the Ginger Paris LCS Strings Endowed Fund at the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation has been created. The endowment fund aims to offer continued financial support for the music program, with the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation promising to hold the fund in perpetuity. 

According to the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation, the grant will be made annually, beginning in August 2024, and will be paid to The LCS Education Foundation, a separate, non-profit organization that supports Lynchburg City Strings. 

The initial goal for the fund is to raise $100,000 by April 20, when the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation will host a Celebrating Lynchburg City Schools Strings – Past, Present, and Future event at the Academy Center of the Arts. From there, The Ginger Paris LCS Strings Fund will create an annual grant to LCS Education Foundation at a five percent payout of the value of the fund as of June 30 each year. The amount will change from year to year, depending upon how the value of the fund grows through gifts and investment returns.

Not only is this fund an opportunity to honor Paris, and her decades-long dedication to music and our local youth, it’s an opportunity to ensure the program remains the successful, life-changing initiative that it has been since 1970.

“I am where I am today because of LCS Strings,” said Sarah Catherine Sonnenberg, a former LCS Strings student (E.C. Glass 2012) who now performs professionally in the southeast Michigan area and has a studio of more than 30 private students. “The Suzuki program is what fostered my love of music and taught me the discipline and skills necessary to step into the professional music world.”

“I am currently pursuing a music performance minor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).  I participate in the Rensselaer Orchestra and Chamber Music Ensemble classes to fulfill my humanities requirements, and also take private lessons. While these ensembles are for credit, I mainly play in them for recreation,” furthered Elliot Putnam (E.C. Glass 2023). “LCS Strings set me on the path that I am now, even though I am studying engineering, not music. In learning how to play a musical instrument, I saw the value of hard work and repeated practice and how far they could take me. I have been playing violin for fifteen years , and every day it has served as a concrete reminder of this. Every music teacher I had in every year I spent in LCS was among my favorites, and the best memories of my childhood almost all come from times in concerts or orchestra classes. The perspective I have gained from college has only increased my appreciation for LCS Strings. Almost all of my classmates come from much larger cities and school systems, but I rarely hear of any music program with the level of depth, community support, and all-around excellence that I saw when I was in the LCS Strings program.”

Now, the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation (GLCF) is rallying former LCS Strings students in anticipation of the April 20 event. GLCF is hoping to gather photos, quotes, and memories that can be shared at the event via a survey. They are also hoping to reunite as many former LCS Strings students as possible at the Academy Center of the Arts on the 20th, as well as during the 52nd Suzuki Festival on April 21 at the Lynchburg City Stadium. The Suzuki Festival will feature over 500 elementary and middle school LCS strings students performing together.

“I’m a Principal Second Violin of the Virginia Symphony, a full-time orchestra with a 42-week season. I’m also a substitute with the St. Louis Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony. I’m on the faculty at The Academy of Music Norfolk, and The Governor’s School for the Arts, and coach the violins of the Bay Youth Orchestras. In the summers I perform at Wintergreen Music,” said Elizabeth Vonderheide (E.C. Glass 1997) “My mom is a musician, and so having a program where she could be directly involved in my lessons and performances made it so much easier for her to help me practice at home. The group classes, individual lessons, and many, MANY performance opportunities were invaluable in creating my musical identity and giving me confidence. I learned so much about work ethic and dedication, as well as camaraderie. Having the older kids to look up to and emulate was so inspiring as a kid, and it was equally important to become that older kid that the young ones looked up to. In all my experience with other string players in college, grad school, festivals and professional orchestras, never have I encountered anyone who had a free public schools Suzuki program like we did. As far as I know, LCS is one of a kind, and so many of us have benefited from it in so many ways!”

It is the hope that, with the Ginger Paris LCS Strings Endowed Fund at the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation, stories like these won’t just be memories, but will also be the future.

If you or someone you know was part of the LCS Strings program, you’re encouraged to take the GLCF survey and attend the April 20 event at Academy Center of the Arts.

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