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Wrong note? School orchestra bans 6th-grader's purple violin

September 12, 2012|By John M. Glionna
  • Camille Cruz's purple violin caused controversy at Tibbetts Middle School in Farmington, N.M., when her teacher asked that she rent a standard violin so she could fit in with the class.
Camille Cruz's purple violin caused controversy at Tibbetts Middle… (Augusta Liddic / The Daily…)

All 11-year-old Camille Cruz wanted to do was play in her sixth-grade orchestra class at a Farmington, N.M., middle school using a violin her grandmother bought her.

This instrument is definitely different: Not only does it have sentimental value, it’s purple -- and that was where school officials drew the line. They insisted Camille had to play a violin the same color as everyone else’s, or she couldn’t play at all.

The student’s violin of a different color now has the town of Farmington (pop. 45,000) in a tizzy. After the local Daily Times newspaper published a story about Camille and her violin, online comments flooded the newspaper’s website. Folks are now discussing the story at coffee houses and over backyard fences.

“It’s been the talk of the town,” Daily Times reporter Ryan Boetel told the Los Angeles Times. “The reaction has been incredibly mixed. Half the people say an orchestra is a team that should come together as one. Others say that anything that prevents a child from joining a school orchestra is a bad thing.”

For Camille and her mother, Sherry Lopez, the brouhaha is all about standing up for who you are, even if the color of your violin is different from everyone else’s.

"This whole thing is like telling Axl Rose he has to use some guitar from Kmart," Lopez told The Times. "He doesn't want to use that. He wants to use his own guitar. And so does Camille. It’s a sense of pride. This violin is hers. She wants to use her own instrument. But the school was just so adamant. She didn’t match. She stood out. It was all about the color of the instrument and not her talents as a musician.”

Calls left at Tibbetts Middle School were not returned.

Camille is a beginner at the violin, a newbie whose repertoire consists of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and the like. She was hoping to learn more songs in orchestra class, her mother said. The gift violin was a surprise from her grandmother. The color was purple, the girl’s favorite.

“She loved it,” Lopez said. “She started squealing, jumping up and down. She began playing right away.”

Camille told the Daily Times her classmates were not distracted by her violin. “They said, ‘Oh, that's so cool. I wish we all had purple violins,’ ” she said.

But the girl’s musical career hit a sour note on the second day of school this month when her teacher informed her the purple violin was out, and that she would have to rent one of the district’s violins for $30.

“She didn’t like the color and she said she had to keep tuning it, suggesting it was a piece-of-crap violin,” said Lopez, a mother of five.

Lopez encouraged her daughter to stand up for what she believed in. “I told her, ‘Camille, you’re not like everyone else. We’re all different. And anyways, we can’t afford to rent one of their violins. Why should we rent when we already own one?’ ”

Lopez lobbied district officials to no avail. “Their attitude was like ‘Doesn’t your daughter want to be like everyone else?’ ” she said. “In this orchestra, they won’t even let the kids wear white socks -- they all have to be black. One school officials told me that, ‘What if one of our football players wanted to wear a bright helmet? We just can’t allow it.’ ”

This Monday, school officials made Camille use a district violin donated free of charge.

“The next morning I apologized to her. I said, ‘Honey, I am so sorry for all of this. I didn’t want it to become a big battle. I just thought we should stand up for what we believe in. If you want to use the school violin, that’s OK with me. I just want you to be happy,’ ” Lopez said.

“And she said, ‘I know, Mama.’ ”

And so Camille made her decision.

“She’s done with the orchestra class,” Lopez said. “She switched out. She no longer plays.”

Lopez said she’ll never know whether the decision ended the career of a budding Yo-Yo Ma. “I’d pay for private lessons if I could afford them,” Lopez said. “But it doesn’t matter now, I guess. Camille is taking choir now.”

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john.glionna@latimes.com

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