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Alumna’s string project reverberates throughout central Texas

Ames Asbell ’92 / Credit: Brian Birzer

Last updated February 22, 2024

By Furman News

Ames Asbell ’92 has been a mainstay of the Austin, Texas, contemporary classical music scene for decades. After receiving her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001, she became a founding member of the city’s Tosca String Quartet. Since then, she’s performed in nearly 40 countries and appeared on stage and in recordings with David Byrne, the Dixie Chicks and Roseanne Cash.

But what the violist and former music performance major is enthusiastic about lately is the music created by children throughout central Texas thanks to the Texas State String Project.

“I love seeing young people come on our campus with their tiny violin and viola and cello cases,” said Asbell, an associate professor of viola at Texas State University in San Marcos, about 30 miles southeast of Austin and 50 miles northeast of San Antonio. “And one of the hugest benefits to our community has been that we’re building a string community in central Texas.”

In fact, not long after Asbell founded the program in 2010 to provide affordable string instruction for area children, the San Marcos school district started its own string program. “All these growing bedroom communities have now been adding string programs,” Asbell said. “In Lockhart, which is the barbecue capital of Texas, they just started one. To our south, there are a couple of districts that have started programs in the last 10 years. So that’s been super exciting to see.”

The Texas State String Project, which Asbell returned to as director last month, puts children in kindergarten through eighth grade in classes led by students at Texas State’s School of Music.

“It delights me to see our teachers feeling confident when they go in the classroom,” said Asbell. “It delights me to see them growing in their own playing and performance. Going in, I tell them, ‘You’re going to learn so much,’ and they always find that to be true beyond their wildest dreams.”

As a music educator at a majority Hispanic institution with a high percentage of first-generation students, she takes pride in maintaining a “strong and inclusive” viola studio.

“We try to make sure that every student feels welcome, every student feels supported, every student feels capable,” said Asbell, who organizes the annual Texas State ViolaFest, a full day of viola artistry, learning and community on campus. “I believe that the students are capable of whatever they decide to do. That’s the culture I tried to build in my studio, and my students seem to flourish in that kind of environment.”

That educational philosophy was “100% present” at Furman during her time there, said Asbell, who is in the early stages of helping to establish an Austin branch of the Furman Women’s Impact Network. “I had wonderful teachers, I had a wonderful community that supported me in music. All my teachers were encouraging and supporting me as a human being. The outlook that I have for my studio was very much how I felt supported at Furman.”

Another thing Asbell – who also recently began a term as president of the American Viola Society – took from her alma mater “was that idea of interdisciplinary collaboration,” she said. “There shouldn’t be walls between our disciplines, especially in the arts. We should be working together and exploring together.”

A native of Columbus, Georgia, the self-described “viola nerd” lives in Austin with her husband and 12-year-old son, where they all thrive on the city’s legendary creative vibe. Texas and the rest of the world need more of that vibe today, she said.

“Art is essential to the human spirit,” said Asbell. “We don’t want to just raise intelligent, high-achieving academic students. We want to raise well-rounded human beings who appreciate beauty and understand how to collaborate with each other. To create together builds an essential and vital type of bond that can’t be achieved in any other way. Connecting across cultural and economic divisions is so essential to understanding our fellow man and building a functioning community.”

VIDEO: Watch Ames Asbell perform with David Byrne live in Austin, Texas

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