2023 marks the 45th year for this highly popular program, which was begun by Ben E. Wright in May of 1978 as, in his own words, “an experiment.” According to Sam Cross, late Professor of Double Bass, who was on the faculty for that very first SST, “Ben was concerned that institutions of higher learning tend to merely court high school seniors, and do little to enrich the educational experience in the public schools. That is why he designed the Spring String Thing to provide enrichment for junior high school students. There must have been a need for his idea—Spring String Thing has prospered ever since.”

Ben Wright had been a public school string teacher in Kansas. His purpose and philosophy for establishing the JMU Spring String Thing was “To offer a wider opportunity to the junior high/middle school and senior high musician to perform in a large orchestral situation and to encourage that student to improve individual and ensemble performance skills.”

Furthermore, Dr. Wright wrote, “Music [to be performed] is chosen in an effort to be sure that all participants can participate at their fullest capability, emphasizing sound, bow control, playing positions and ensemble performance practices. Although there is a final performance, the learning process and social interaction remains the primary objective of the program.”

Dr. Ben Wright, who was Director of Orchestras in the Music Department from 1971-1987 at what was then Madison College, held the very first Spring String Thing in 1978 with a single orchestra of 286. Needless to say that although the “experiment” went through quite a bit of refinement after that first time, the many students who attended must have indelible memories of the experience. Quite a number of those first SST attendees were inspired to become string teachers. Many of them are teaching around the state and support the program because they believe that their students will enjoy the program as much as they did.

During the years Ben Wright was Director, the program flourished and increased to multiple orchestras. After Ben Wright died in 1987, several years of interim directors contributed to a significant enrollment decline. In 1992, Dr. Robert McCashin became the Director of Orchestras at JMU. Along with his wife, Clarine (“Charlie”) McCashin, they had originated a similar summer program in Texas.  Under their guidance, Spring String Thing was soon thriving again.  

By the early 2000’s, enrollment had to be capped at a maximum of five hundred for balanced instrumentation and space availability. Many sections would fill within a few days which attests to the popularity of the program. The dedicated faculty and staff also grew to over sixty individuals; most of whom were music teachers.    

In 2016, Dr. and Mrs. McCashin retired after 24 years with JMU. While they very much miss the personal interaction with the thousands of campers and their families, their legacy continues. The new Director of JMU Orchestras, Professor Foster Beyers, and his wife, Dr. Yi-Ping Chen, now lead the program and enjoy nurturing the next generation of musicians.

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