MaKhi Haynes, 13, a student in Atlanta, Ga. receives a piano lesson from James Shealy, a music instructor, during an afternoon session of the Kevin Baker Music Program in Atlanta on Thursday, April 5, 2018. (Reann Huber/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Monica Chi sat astride the cello as she hesitantly held the instrument’s bow to the strings. She turned to the player to her left — her daughter — and looked questioningly for help.

Chi’s pleading expression telegraphed what children routinely look to parents for: Is this right?

Except this time, the parent was the student.

Mother and daughter had practiced the so-called “bow hold” at home before, with 14-year-old Julianne Chi — the experienced musician — holding a pen horizontally as if it was a cello bow, modeling the correct hand position for her beginner-player mom.

“It’s kind of like you’re holding a coke can — or a Dr Pepper can, since this is Texas,” assistant orchestra director Victoria Lien said to a group of parents during a recent practice at Frisco Independent School District’s Liberty High School.

Once a week, Chi and a dozen or so adults gather in the high school orchestra room after their day jobs. They sit on plastic chairs where their students practiced earlier in the day. They unlock their children’s instruments from hard shell cases, the latches knocking against the plastic. And they pluck the strings in a short staccato rhythm.

“My whole reason for doing this is to connect the parents together to help fully make a community for them, as well as help them connect with their students,” said the 25-year-old Lien.

A graduate student at the University of North Texas, she organized the parent orchestra this year to teach adults string instruments as a project in her music education program. She wanted parents to understand and appreciate how their students play and the skills it takes to get to a certain level.

Usually, it’s just the adults at the practices. But sometimes students like ninth grader Julianne drop in to help the adult players and sit next to their parents to give pointers — a role reversal where the student becomes the teacher.

“Julianne, if you’re bored, could you go tune everyone else?” Lien asked the freshman student before the practice.

“But I don’t want to offend anybody,” Julianne replied, dropping her voice to a whisper.

Learning a new instrument is a humbling experience and a vulnerable position for the parents — as the ones who the kids usually look to for help. Most of the adults are new to orchestra. Others like Chi, who plays the piano, grew up practicing and reading music.

But Chi is the only one in her family who didn’t know how to play a string instrument. Julianne plays the viola and cello, and Chi’s husband plays the violin. Eventually, she hopes to play with her daughter. Maybe even form a family trio.

“My daughter said I should be part of the string family,” Chi said, laughing. “But it’s harder; it’s much harder than I thought. … If you mess up, it’s screeching.”

Under Lien’s direction, the adults practiced proper posture when holding the instrument. (Lien even demonstrated how they can use the selfie mode on their camera phones to check their form when their kids aren’t home to help.)

They practiced playing as an ensemble, moving their bows back and forth at the same speed. They ran through scales, plucking their strings up and down the octave ladder.

And they finished the night with several measures of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

“Yes!” said Julianne when everyone ended at the same time (easier said than done), turning to her mom and clapping.

“Let’s go again,” Lien said. “This time faster.”

Initially, Lien hoped for 10 participants. Now, the list counts more than 30 parents and Liberty High School staff and teachers.

A parking lot attendant at the high school, for example, who wore an “orchestra is life” T-shirt to the Wednesday evening practice, is learning the violin and has plans to start private lessons. And a parent in the front row who grew up playing the veena — an ancient plucked-string instrument — as a girl in India is learning as an adult to play the violin so she can perform duets with her teenage son.

“We didn’t expect music would enter our lives like this,” parent Aparna Viswanathan said.

If someone misses a practice because of work or parenting conflicts, Lien makes videos of the lessons so they can catch up.

But Viswanathan said many don’t want to miss.

“We started doing this for the kids, but it’s been a real stress reliever,” she said for the parents. “There’s no pressure.”

Next semester, the parents will be in the spotlight. There are plans for them to perform a piece alongside their children during the spring concert.

Orchestra director Julie Blackstock initially was doubtful many parents would be interested in learning something new as adults, but she cried after the first rehearsal when she overheard parents excitedly saying as they packed up their instruments, “I can’t wait to play with my kid.”

“And that was her whole thing,” Blackstock said, nodding toward Lien. “She wanted this to be a way for parents and students to bond at a time when kids don’t want to hang out with their parents.”

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