Virginia Tech is launching the first program in its Outreach Community Fine Arts Initiative designed to help enhance economic development by improving quality of life through music education and performance in Southside and Southwest Virginia. The program's goal is to demonstrate the relationship of the fine arts and economic development and to reinforce the university's commitment to excellence in the arts.

The Chatham Arts Initiative, led by Virginia Tech Outreach Fellow and co-founder of the Renaissance Music Academy of Virginia David Ehrlich, will contribute to the Southside region's community and economic development strategy through a financially self-sufficient music education program for all 4- to 11-year-old children within a 25-mile radius of Chatham, located in Pittsylvania County. Local community leaders and educators have formed a committee to lead and coordinate the effort. A second program is being launched in Wytheville, Wythe County.

Based at Woodlawn Academy, a private school for pre-K to eighth-grade students in Chatham, the pilot phase will reach out to all students in the targeted age group in the Chatham area. Private music lessons will be offered at Chatham Baptist Church and Woodlawn Academy, which have committed the use of their facilities to support the program. Professional instructors who specialize in teaching children will be employed by the Renaissance Music Academy and will use the world renowned Suzuki method of instruction, which stresses parental involvement.

The Chatham Arts Initiative will eventually form a small orchestra that will perform quarterly in Chatham. "The philosophy behind the plan is that if you start by involving young children, you will grow a base upon which to build a more comprehensive program," Ehrlich said.

Funding for the Chatham Arts Initiative will come from fees for music lessons paid by parents, private fund raising, grants, and community foundation support.

Four special programs and performances will be held this spring. The kick-off program, scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, March 7, at Woodlawn Academy, is designed to interest parents and their children in string instruments (violin, viola, cello) and piano. The chamber music trio Avanti will perform a concert including "Appalachiana," a new composition by Virginia Tech composer Kent Holliday, plus works written for children. Conversations with the young audience and an "instrument petting zoo" will follow, during which children and their parents can touch and ask questions about the instruments. All interested parents with children living within the 25-mile radius of Chatham are encouraged to attend.

The first concert in the new Chatham Chamber Music Concert Series will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, April 1, at the Chatham Baptist Church. Special guest pianist will be Jeanne Schumann, who will be accompanied by strings. The concert is open to the community, and a reception will follow.

The Renaissance Music Academy Chamber Orchestra will offer two performances later in the spring. A meeting with interested families will follow the May 21 performance.

"We are starting on a small scale so the program is more manageable and feasible, but we do hope to see the arts initiative grow to include more communities in our area," Betty Davenport, chair of the Chatham Arts Initiative Committee, said. "We are also planning to form an adult choral group in the future."

Other committee members are Stan Cocke, headmaster of Woodlawn Academy; Todd Sease, principal of Southside Elementary; Mary Yardley, counselor for Chatham Elementary School; Chuck Warnock, pastor of Chatham Baptist Church; and Mary Lee Black, teacher at Chatham Hall and a lifelong resident of Chatham who is active in Chatham First, an organization that plans events for the town. An advocacy group provides additional support.

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