Music Teacher David Graber returned to Lodge Grass Schools last year, as head of the band program.
Graber said a strings program in the music department is a good fit for younger students. Stringed instruments don’t require the same amount of endurance and lung capacity, which can be difficult for younger children, he said.
Strings don’t make as harsh of sounds and are generally quieter for beginners. The instruments can be more easily shared without worry of transmission of germs through saliva. Graber said any kind of music education makes a great foundation for any students who want to pursue music in their lives.
Graber, who is semi-retired, originally worked as a teacher for Lodge Grass Schools from 1986 to 2001, before doing some work in China, and back in Montana for Crow Agency and Wyola. But even before all of this, he met a man by the name of Joe Jewett at an Indian Education Summit, where a rough outline of a strings program was created.
Jewett has since become an accomplished violinist and violist. He has immense experience in orchestral symphonies, and has taught music across the country both for public schools and private lessons.
Jewett has with him a large folder full of contacts from when he lived in Montana.
“One day, I was looking through it and saw David Graber,” Jewett recounted. Jewett remembered Graber from the discussion they had years ago at the Indian Education Summit, and decided in October 2022 to get into contact with him and since then the program has really taken off.
David was on board right away.
“I told him, as long as you can get the money,” Graber said.
Jewett started by getting a hold of various music organizations based out of Montana, starting a Gofundme and donating some of his own personal finances to get the program started. The Gofundme has, as of this writing, raised $14,278 out of a $5,000 goal. The lion’s share of the money came from an anonymous donor who gave a staggering $12,000.
Other sources of revenue include a grant from Classics for Kids.
“I’ve known Joe for a long time,” Executive/Artistic Director and co-founder Michael Reynolds said.
He said out of the blue he received a call from Jewett.
“I grew up in Bozeman, back when it was a quiet college town. My mom created an orchestra program in the area,” Reynolds said.
He also explained what he saw as concrete benefits to these sorts of music programs.
“My basic belief is that the study of music can help kids in a lot of situations beyond just music. Concentration, communication skills, there’s evidence that it even improves math and reading scores, as well as absentee and behavioral problems.” Reynolds said, adding the impact of string instruments across cultures, and that it was important to remember that strings are used in many genres.
“You don’t just have to play Mozart.”
Monica Grable, Arts Education Director with the Montana Arts Council, expressed excitement at having the opportunity to give a grant to this program.
“Starting a strings program in Lodge Grass is a big deal, we’re really happy to be a part of this,” Grable said.
She further explained that “this is our first time funding something in Lodge Grass.” The money from this grant is going to the school, while Joe Jewett has facilitated the process.
Eckroth Music in Billings donated around a dozen violins and cellos to the program.
“We like to support any music programs in the region, and this was the first string program we’ve seen being started,” Mike Miller, the manager of Ekroth said. "We felt like we would make a good fit.”
The program has a strong foundation and passionate people involved, but there are difficulties on the horizon.
Graber is 80 years old, and plans to retire fully in Spring.
“The school will need a band teacher, hopefully someone with strings experience,” said Jewett. ‘We need to make this sustainable.”
Jewett has been looking through his contacts for teachers and tutors to come in and teach, but a permanent teacher is still needed.