Cedar Rapids Community Strings ready to add some pluck to music scene

Group hopes to gather musicians for volunteer ensemble

Diana Nollen
Published: December 24 2013 | 3:30 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:15 am in
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Choir and band members have lots of local options to keep their pipes in tune after high school and college. But what's a string player to do?

Martin Clancey and Doug Elam are bowing to that void by creating Cedar Rapids Community Strings. The free, all-volunteer ensemble will rehearse  7:30 p.m., Tuesdays, beginning Jan. 14, at Cedar Hills Community Church, 6455 E Ave. NW. The goal is to present a free concert at the church in the spring.

About 15 people showed up for an initial meeting in November, and the numbers have grown to 23, via word of mouth. All string players ages 18 and older are welcome — violins, violas, cellos, basses and harps.

It doesn't matter if you rosined up your bow yesterday or a score ago. The notes and technique likely will come flooding back via muscle memory, rehearsals and guidance from conductor Clancey and several seasoned pros within the group.

"The whole time I taught, and that was 30 years, I always would tell my kids, the nice thing about being a string player is that you can always play, there's always a group for you to play in," said Clancey, 63, of Cedar Rapids, who spent the first half of his career in Houston and the last half leading the orchestra program at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School.

"When I retired, I realized there's no place for them to play. We've got a wonderful symphony, but most (students) were like me, they liked to play but it wasn't their life. They didn't think they'd make their bread-and-butter on it, and there wasn't anything for them to do," Clancey said

Elam had the same realization.

"Marty and I were having lunch one day, and I said, 'How come there isn't a string group?'" recalled Elam, 60, of Cedar Rapids.

He’s a violist who volunteers with Cleveland and Roosevelt middle school string programs.

For years, Clancey had wanted to start such a group, but he didn't have a place to house it. Elam thought immediately of his church, and got the green light from the senior pastor, a former Jefferson orchestra and band parent who said he was pleased to have another way for the church to be part of the community.

It already houses the Open Hands Food Pantry, open three days a week to serve people in need.

Iowa City has had a community string orchestra since 1980, and presented its first concert in 1981. Members come from all walks of life, from farmers and doctors to University of Iowa professors, students and retirees.

The current roster lists 44 players, but more than 300 people have been involved over the years. Carey Bostian of Iowa City, Orchestra Iowa's principal cellist, has been the conductor since 1998, leading the group in free concerts each spring and fall. Dues are $40 per semester.

Clancey and Elam aren't planning to charge dues, and are choosing music they can borrow or download free.

The focus is on musical fun and fellowship, offering a wide variety of fiddle music, bluegrass, country and Irish tunes. the long-term goal is to add some woodwinds and horns, so the group can play symphonic pieces, too.

"A lot of people will stop playing when they graduate high school or college, and they've got a very nice instrument sitting in the closet," Elam said, adding that it can be hard to pick that instrument back up on your own.

"You can take lessons and go home and practice, but it doesn't go very far," he said. "But if you play in a group setting and you have the camaraderie of a group, you have a reason to practice, you have a reason to play. It just gets you a whole lot further than trying to do it on your own.

"We're encouraging people who haven't played for years to come out and just start playing again," Elam said. "We'll make space for you, even if you're in the back row air-bowing."


  • What: Cedar Rapids Community Strings, new volunteer ensemble open to players 18 and older
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, beginning Jan. 14
  • Where: Cedar Hills Community Church, 6455 E Ave. NW, Cedar Rapids
  • Details: Doug Elam, (319) 366-0705, or Sites.google.com/site/crcommunitystrings


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