Sweet sounds fill the air thanks to Tupelo Strings program

Five mornings a week, the band hall at Tupelo High School fills with string music.
Lately, that means songs like “White Christmas,” “Let it Snow” and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
“We play different kinds of music,” said Svetlana Kaltchenko, Tupelo Strings Program teacher. “We play pop, now. I think classical music is the most important, but we play pop because they like it.”
It’s all beautiful music that’s been building for 10 years or more in some cases.
“I started playing violin in the fifth grade,” said Tyler Goree, an 18-year-old senior. “I saw some of the older kids, and I just decided I wanted to do something like that.”
He said he went to his parents, and they “agreed pretty quick. They wanted me to be involved in something at an early age.”
There are 19 string students at the high school, with another 68 spread among Lawndale, Lawhon, Pierce Street, Rankin and Milam elementary schools, and Tupelo Middle School.
“We have concerts and we go out into the community to play for people,” said Kang Lin Tsai, a 17-year-old junior.
You can sample the program’s results from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday during THS’ free Shakespearean Tea at Harrisburg Baptist Church.
“You make people happy. You’re producing something beautiful,” said Abby Condit, a 15-year-old sophomore. “You just feel that you are doing something for the community.”

On the field
In some ways, the program can be compared to a sports team with a mix of underclassmen and upperclassmen.
“It is challenging to have a class with ninth-grade students to seniors in the same class. You need to keep them all motivated,” Kaltchenko said. “It’s a big step from middle school.”
Like a sports team, graduation creates new roles to fill. Talented players are ready to step up, but there’s some attrition along the way from elementary school to high school.
“There are a lot of choices for them, competing for their time,” Kaltchenko said. “Well, of course, we hope they stay with it.”
For those who stick with the cello, violin or viola, tangible rewards are possible. Representatives from the University of Mississippi, the University of North Alabama and the University of Louisiana-Monroe have visited THS this year to discuss scholarship opportunities.
“One former student has a scholarship. She is studying engineering at Ole Miss, but she does the orchestra, too,” Kaltchenko said. “There are scholarships for good, strong players.”

There and back
Teletha Newell grew up on the Tupelo Strings Program. She started in sixth grade, and followed it through high school graduation.
Newell went on to earn a degree in music education at Mississippi State University. Now, she’s in her first year of teaching other students what she learned not too long ago.
“I probably knew I wanted to teach in my 11th-grade year,” she said.
Since August, she’s enjoyed the chance to steer students toward those “aha” moments, where music theory turns into music knowledge. If her young students stick with the program, they can expect life-long benefits, she said.
“You have to have all of your priorities in line because you have to balance your schoolwork and practice,” Newell said. “We instill life lessons.”
Jessica Wallace, an 18-year-old senior, said simply playing the cello, guitar, bass or marimba can help create balance in her life.
“They are my TV and video games,” she said. “When I get stressed out or I’m upset about something, I can always pick up an instrument, and it makes me feel better.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.

You’re invited
– What: Tupelo High School Shakespearean Tea
– When: 4 to 6 p.m. Monday
– Where: Harrisburg Baptist Church
– Tickets: Free
– Info: (662) 841-8970
– Extra: The event will include refreshments, music and more

Got a student?
If you’re interested in enrolling a student in the Tupelo Strings Program, call Svetlana Kaltchenko at (662) 841-8970 or Teletha Newell at 841-8920.

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio