Suzuki to Electric Keys

February 24th, 2011

Wanda Teague Alger ’81

When Wanda Alger lived in Harrisonburg in the 1980s, she was known for launching two very different music initiatives.

In 1981, she founded the Shenandoah Valley Suzuki String program for children aged 3 to 18. Over the next seven years, her program grew six-fold, from 13 to 85 students.

In 1985, she became one of the founders of Cornerstone Mennonite Fellowship (now the non-denominational Cornerstone Church of Broadway), training worship musicians and teams through coaching, seminars and conferences.

“Cornerstone was, at that time, one of the few Mennonite churches doing ‘praise and worship’ music – it was a drawing card for young adults and young families looking for something more contemporary and experiential,” Wanda recalled in an 11/20/10 e-mail to Crossroads.

In 1988, she sold her Suzuki string program to her alma mater, and it became EMU’s Shenandoah Valley Preparatory Music Program. It has grown to serve 500 students, some as young as babies in the Musikgarten program, through high school seniors taking private lessons and in the Shenandoah Valley Youth Symphony. EMU is now the official provider of strings instruction in the local public schools.

“I started teaching violin in the first place because the schools didn’t offer anything,” Wanda wrote in her e-mail. “I never dreamed it would come full circle!”

Concurrently with selling her Suzuki string program, Wanda married Robert “Bobby” Alger (whose maternal grandfather was John L. Stauffer, the third president of EMU), and they enrolled in Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with Wanda pursuing a master’s in church music and Bobby a master’s in divinity.

“My experience in Tulsa was tremendous, musically,” she said. “I was principal second violinist in one of the two major professional orchestras, joined the union, and had many opportunities for performing music in the community.

“Tulsa’s music culture knew the value of trained musicians and paid accordingly (even in the church) – very different from my previous experiences! I also interned at a large Methodist church in the city and had a taste of being involved in a large ministry of over 2,000 congregants. It would have been very easy to stay, but God had other plans.”

In 1991, the Algers returned to Broadway, Virginia, “to continue growing the Cornerstone ministry,” Wanda said. “At its peak, Cornerstone’s annual rallies drew almost 1,500 people.”

In 1998, the Algers “sensed a call to do church planting” and they moved an hour north to Winchester, Virginia, with four other families. From gathering in the basement of the Alger home, their Crossroads Community Church has grown to 125-175 attendees on a Sunday morning, including 40-50 children and teens. They now gather in a 10,000- square-foot renovated warehouse in a strip mall near I-81 on the northern edge of Winchester. They are affiliated with Dove Christian Fellowship International, a church-planting movement based in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

“Our aim is to reach the next generation through worship that is relevant, inspirational and participatory,” she said. As a result, Wanda plays less classical violin these days and more electronic keyboard, accompanied by guitars and drums. She is training young men and women – including her three teenaged children, Rachel, Nathan and Josh – to produce the praise-and-worship music favored by her church. All musicians help lead the singing, while the congregation follows along, reading words projected onto a screen.

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