Ginger Paris: A Symphony of Students and Strings

by | Jun 2024

GINGER PARIS places her violin in the playing position while students as young as 5 do the same. After the introduction ends, the sounds of the first song they learned, “Mississippi Hot Dog,” fill the room. The students are eager to please their beloved Mrs. Paris, and the parents in attendance beam as they note marked improvement. Using words and listening to recordings allows students to play the rhythm without knowing how to read music, which will come later. Just as one would never expect an infant to win a spelling bee, students using the Suzuki method learn to read musical notes after mastering the sounds and speaking the language of music fluently. 

Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese native born in 1898, believed that if children learned to speak their native language with ease by mimicking sounds around them, the same could be true for learning music, and the Suzuki method was born.

In the fall of 1970, Rudolph “Rudy” Hazucha founded the Lynchburg City Schools (LCS) Strings program after being introduced to Suzuki’s revolutionary method. His pilot program proved wildly successful, expanding rapidly into every city school. In 1974, Lynchburg native Ginger Paris began teaching violin at another location before coming alongside LCS teachers Bruce and Ellen Habitzruther in 1978. When the couple retired in 2001, Paris became the director. Over the last 50 years, she has taught thousands of students to play string instruments, primarily violin, with many pursuing music as a career.

Music education has proven to increase brain development, foster social interactions, and build self-confidence. In honor of Paris’ contributions to the LCS Strings program, Drs. Bob and Terry Brennan created an endowment fund at the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation that will support the achievements of LCS Strings students in perpetuity. 

Paris was elated with the news and said, “For the strings teachers in K-12 to have funds available for violin repairs, professional development, field trips, and more without the often tedious and tiresome efforts of fundraising is truly a dream come true!” 

In April, over 750 people reserved seats and attended the “Celebrating Lynchburg City Schools Strings – Past, Present, and Future” show held in honor of Paris at the Academy Center of the Arts’ Historic Academy Theatre. This event featured notable LCS Strings alumns such as Emily Glover — wife of Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra Music Director/Conductor David Glover, Greg Childress, Dr. Tes Slominski, Elizabeth Vonderheide, Stephen Meyer, and many others. The day following this event, the 52nd annual Suzuki Festival was held at E. C. Glass High School, which featured an overflowing stage of elementary and middle school students performing together. 

The LCS Strings program is the only program in the Commonwealth of Virginia that offers free Suzuki violin lessons to kindergarten through fifth grade students and orchestra to sixth through 12th grade students. Currently, over 850 students — or just over 10% of the student population — are involved in the LCS Strings program. 

“I am envious of my students who get to learn by the Suzuki method,” said Paris. “They listen to recordings, repeat small segments with the help of a parent, and later, attach abstract notes to what they can already play. I didn’t get to learn violin until the third grade. My private teacher required me to take two years of piano and know how to read music first.” 

Suzuki violin students learn self-confidence to memorize quickly and develop a keen sense of pitch. Children learn best by repetition, and eventually, Paris sees that special twinkle in their eyes as they find the notes before she’s even taught them. 

“There is an inner joy in making music, whether you’re doing it for yourself or others. The skills that are learned carry over into everything you do. They help students become better students and, as Dr. Suzuki often stated, ‘a better person.’ Music is a universal language no matter where you go. Even if the music is very different from what you are accustomed to hearing in your culture, it helps you relate to others.” 

After 50 years of teaching, how does she do it? 

“Oh, I have lots of stamina. Each year, I have somewhere between 150-225 students, so I’m now teaching children of former students and even a few grandchildren. I can’t imagine life without teaching.” 

The Ginger Paris LCS Strings Fund soared to over $126,000 in donations, quickly surpassing its original goal of $100,000. GN 

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