Making strings sing

Posted on August 27, 2013

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Reposted from UNCG Now

Oriana Ealy is naturally curious. The rising fifth-grader wants to know everything about everything, and she stores information like a walking, talking encyclopedia.

“I wonder how many strings a harp has,” she says out of the blue. “I tried to count once, but I lost track.”

It’s no wonder then that Oriana’s curiosity about music makes her the perfect caretaker for a 95-year-old violin. The instrument, a replica of a 1728 Stradivarius, once belonged to Alice Gordon Knowles, who attended UNCG when it was the State Normal and Industrial College.

“They chose me,” Oriana says, gently lifting the polished red-brown violin from its case, and all but waltzing it around her living room. “I think it’s because of my passion for music.”

Rebecca MacLeod, a professor in UNCG’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, met Oriana when she started a special program to teach strings to students at Peck Elementary School in Greensboro. MacLeod wanted to give Peck students a chance to learn instruments they might not otherwise have a chance to play.

Knowles’s son donated the violin to the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra. The symphony decided to give it to an enthusiastic student in the Peck program.

Oriana, who was finishing her second year in the program, stood out.

“My graduate students and I carefully considered who should receive the violin for a few months before selecting Oriana,” MacLeod says. “We knew that the violin should go to a very deserving student and the symphony hoped that it would be a female student because the original owner was female, had attended UNCG when it was the women’s college, and had played in the UNCG orchestra in 1918. … Ultimately, we selected Oriana because she was hard-working, displayed a keen interest in playing the violin, and demonstrated leadership during rehearsals and performances.”

Oriana was the only fourth-grade student to perform a solo at Peck’s concert last December.

“All of the fourth-grade students were given the option to create a solo,” MacLeod says. “Only Oriana accepted that challenge. …. Her initiative made her stand out as the appropriate recipient of the violin.”

Oriana may keep the instrument as long as she continues to study violin. The violin appraised at about $500, a far cry from the $6.10 asking price in an old Sears Roebuck catalog.

“It’s so fragile I’m afraid to touch it,” says Oriana’s mom, Felicia. “Old stuff you have to handle with care.”

The violin came with a viola bow, and Oriana is now researching what bow strings are made of. “I went to see an orchestra play and this lady had a bow that was rainbow colored,” she says.

This leads to a mini-lesson on playing notes. “First finger on D is E,” Oriana explains.

Oriana will perform in a Sept. 14 celebration of Maya Angelou, part of the University Performing Arts Series at UNCG. Patricia Gray in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance is composing a piece based on Angelou’s writings and using the songs of Mockingbirds. Peck students will help with the creative process, and add improvisation to the composition.

While she plans to become a veterinarian, Oriana wants to continue lessons after she completes her last year at Peck. Her parents say studying music and receiving the violin have opened new worlds for their daughter.

“Just being around music has definitely stimulated her mentally, her intellect and her vocabulary,” says her dad, Orin. “She has really taken off in the last year. It’s been good for her, and it’s definitely led to a thirst for knowledge.”

Some of their conversations are so in-depth, he says, “sometimes I have to look back to see if that’s her talking.”

By Michelle Hines, University Relations
Photography by David Wilson, University Relations
UNCG Now story posted by Michelle Hines (

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