Indiana State University Newsroom

Music student launches after-school violin program

May 22, 2013

Sean Carey is a renaissance man with a passion for music and making a difference in the lives of children.

An Indiana State University music student from Munster, Carey took that passion, built a series of community partnerships and launched an after-school violin program at Deming Elementary School in Terre Haute, where he taught 13 young students every Wednesday during the spring semester.

Carey, a music education major and Service Learning Scholar through Indiana State University's Center for Community Engagement, is the first to say it wasn't easy. It took a year working with Sandy Mutchler, executive director of the Crossroads of America Youth Orchestra, to make the Da Capo Strings After School Program a reality.

"The program wouldn't exist without Sean's dedication. He conceived the idea, worked on the grant, wrote the curriculum, taught the classes and promoted the program in the community," Mutchler said.

The collaborative effort between Indiana State's School of Music, Vigo County School Corporation and Crossroads Youth Orchestra received assistance for the pilot program from the City of Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley Community Foundation through a $3,000 grant to purchase violins.

"The program at Deming was initiated to give students, who otherwise would not get the opportunity, a chance to learn the violin," Carey said. "We focused on those students whose test scores were low, and therefore not allowed to take orchestra. We argued that these students were the ones that needed music the most. "

Deming Elementary was selected for multiple reasons.

"We had a lot of support from the principal, Susan Mardis. She was instrumental in helping us begin this program," Carey said. "She and Mr. Kisor (Deming music teacher) welcomed us with open arms."

The students embraced the experience from the start, Carey said. Not all children like to sing or play the recorder, so orchestra provided a different kind of creative outlet, he said.

"The day that we received the instruments and I brought them in, the students lit up. They were overjoyed that they were getting the chance to play an instrument in addition to being responsible enough to take care of one," Carey added.

According to Mutchler, who witnessed the success of the program first-hand, Carey and the students connected immediately.

"From the first day, Sean captured the children's attention and enthusiasm." Mutchler recalled. "I was amazed at how focused they became when Sean started the lesson. He has a real warmth and gift that translates to young children."

Da Capo Strings achieved success in its inaugural year, and has been invited back to Deming for an encore next year - with a slight change.

"This past year, Sean was the lead instructor with the children. Next year, he will shift his role to train and mentor other Indiana State students to take on the lead teacher role. He will groom these students to take over the program in 2014-15 and hopefully expand the program to other local elementary schools," Mutchler said.

"The hope is that Indiana State music students learn more about teaching, help Terre Haute teachers learn more about teaching strings specifically, and also helps "grow" a string population that could eventually join the Preparatory Strings and ultimately CAYO to obtain that great musical experience you get from playing in an orchestra with others," Carey, who will graduate in May 2014, said.

Carey, who is also a member of Concert Choir, hopes other Indiana State music students benefit from the real life experience as he has.

"I've been teaching privately through the Community School of the Arts as well at Indiana State, and both have really aided in my professional development as a violin teacher and overall music educator," he said. "But I was able to start a class of my own from the beginning, and help them achieve a fulfilling musical experience through playing the violin."

In addition to receiving feedback on his teaching from a seasoned music educator, Carey also fine-tuned his leadership skills - something also necessary for a career in the classroom.

"I have learned that I cannot always rely on the kids listening to me, and that I have to place the responsibility of behavior on the students," he said, adding "I will never raise my voice to my students, but they will understand what I expect of them."

Because of this experience, Carey has found his niche in teaching.

"Coming into the School of Music three years ago, I knew I wanted to teach music, but I wasn't sure if it would be elementary or not. After teaching these kids over the semester, I have found that it's where I belong," he explained.

Da Capo Strings has also inspired him to dream big.

"If I could put a violin in the hands of troubled children in an inner city public school system such as Chicago, New York, or Indianapolis, I truly think that I can make a difference," Carey said. "I am living proof that the violin and music can change your life."

"Before I started violin lessons, my grades were not good, I didn't want to do homework, I kept to myself, and I didn't really fit in anywhere."

After two years of lessons and joining the orchestra, Carey made friends who had similar interests, became an honors student, became concertmaster of his high school orchestra and graduated with honors.

"Music turned my life around so much so that I am now a Presidents Scholar at Indiana State studying music education. It is my ultimate goal to be a role model for these students, and to inspire each and every one of them to be great." 

Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or

Story Highlights

An Indiana State University music student from Munster, Sean Carey took that passion, built a series of community partnerships and launched an after-school violin program at Deming Elementary School in Terre Haute, where he taught 13 young students.

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