By BLAKE STEWART
When Dana Meyer started a violin studio in Franklin, Tennessee, her vision was clear: create a program that would provide children the means to become confident and beautiful artists.
Since establishing her studio in 2005, Music City Strings became the byproduct of that vision.
Music City Strings is a nonprofit organization that conducts classes, workshops and public performances to foster high level music education for the students of Middle Tennessee. Since its inception, the program has enjoyed successes at the local, national and international level.
Taking the stage
On a spring night in early May, Meyer and her students arrived at War Memorial Auditorium as special guests for the iconic duo, Black Violin.
Midway through the show, Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste of Black Violin stopped the performance to bring out someone close to their hearts: Dana Meyer.
While teaching at the Dillard High School of Performing Arts, Meyer met then-students Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste. She offered to give the duo free violin lessons, later assisting them in securing college scholarships.
Since meeting Meyer, Sylvester and Baptiste formed Black Violin, where they combine their love for classical music and hip hop.
Black Violin’s popularity has risen with the duo performing across the globe for troops in Iraq, touring internationally and performing at president Obama’s inauguration.
All their success was accomplished through a passion for music, a love for the violin and the help of a dedicated teacher.
A model of leadership and performance
At Meyers’ studio, students range in age from 4 to 18, meeting once a week for private lessons and group meetings every Thursday night at ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin.
The group classes are designed to teach students attention to detail through repetition of skill and technique.
Meyer puts an emphasis on students performing on stage taking a hands-off approach, allowing students to lead each other.
“I try to stay out of it,” Meyer said. “Most teachers will go on stage and lead the groups but I make my students lead and see what they can do without me.”
When opening her studio, Meyer’s goal for her students was to one day perform at the International Ensembles at the Suzuki Association of the American Competition (SAAC).
In 2012, Music City Strings was one of three groups selected to perform.
“I never dreamed we would be chosen, but I believe in these kids and what they can do,” Meyer said. “I tell my students to make excellence a habit and that’s exactly what they do.”
After performing at the SAAC, Music City Strings was discovered by The League of Astonishing Strings and was invited by the founders of Barrage on a 17-day concert tour of Europe with 12 performances in Spain, France, England and Scotland.
Despite language and cultural barriers, students were able to share their love for music across the globe.
“Music is an international language,” Meyer said. “You can go anywhere in the world and share that common bond, regardless of where you’re at.”
Developing success off the stage
Meyer’s approach is working for students on stage and in the classroom.
“Every single student that I have ever taught has either gone into music or used it for scholarship money in college,” Meyer said.
The average score of Meyer’s students for their ACT is 35. Meyer’s students have received scholarships to University of Southern California, Columbia University, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee and Rhodes College.
Former student Clayton Heinecke has worked with Meyer since the age of six. Graduating from high school in 2017, Heinecke is now a sophomore at the University of Memphis majoring in music education, where the majority of his education is covered through scholarships.
Heinecke attributes his success to Meyer’s dedication.
“When I was younger, there were times I wanted to quit, but she never let up,” Heinecke says. “Looking back, I’m so grateful that she never gave up and always saw the potential in me.”
Meyer believes that the value of music extends beyond artistic expression or scholarship. For Meyer, it develops character, collaboration, sensitivity and a heightened awareness of beauty.
“If you look at all my teenagers, they are just such great kids because of the discipline and commitment,” Meyer says.
Watching her students perform in front of a packed auditorium and a standing ovation with Sylvester and Baptiste makes it worthwhile for Meyer.
As Meyer left the stage, Sylvester and Baptiste wiped tears from their cheeks as students from Music City Strings walked on stage with their violins to perform alongside Black Violin.
Witnessing the success of two former students and watching current students thrive on stage in front of an audience is why Meyer began teaching.
“Music really touches the soul and you can see in a performance how it transforms whatever experience you’re going through. It gave Black Violin something to latch onto and gave them a dream and that’s what I want to give to my students,” Meyer said.