On Dec. 18, 10-year-old violinist Thomas Lichtenberg did something many adult musicians have never done: He performed for the fourth time at Orchestra Hall in Detroit.
The Farmington resident is a member of the Wayne State University String Project, a "laboratory school" that pairs Wayne student musicians with children who play violin, viola, cello or bass. The three-year program was named "2011 String Project of the Year" by the American String Teachers Association.
For Thomas, playing a stringed instrument continues a family tradition.
"I liked that it was the smallest instrument. And my big sister Emily played it before I did," he said.
His mother, Susan Lichtenberg, added that Emily had a very positive experience with the music program.
"They do a great job with their orchestra, and having watched Emily go through it, we wanted (Thomas) to have the opportunity to participate," she said.
The family found out about the Wayne State strings program when information came across the desk of Thomas' father Dr. Peter Lichtenberg, who is director of Wayne's Institute of Gerontology. Susan Lichtenberg said the price is "very reasonable", and the program exposes Thomas to music in a way that private lessons can't.
Over the past three years, he has played music by a wide variety of composers, from Beethoven to the Beatles. Thomas has moved through two levels of the program, and is now in the highest level. At the end of each year, students are tested through a performance and a written quiz.
"On last year's, I got every one right, except the bonus," Thomas said. "I have never failed a level, I am happy to say."
A student at , he also plays in the school orchestra and practices for 30 minutes every night. His Wayne State instructor Jennifer Palmatier established a goal for students of 180 practice minutes each week, with a special reward when everyone achieves that goal.
Thomas aims for 210 minutes, "so I can help us win the pizza party."
While he has a friend in his strings class, a girl who was in his kindergarten class, Thomas said he hasn't gotten to know many of the other kids in the orchestra, because they don't perform together often. That makes his mother all the more amazed by the way the group comes together for their concerts, under the direction of project co-leader William Starnes.
"I watched them, and with the first rehearsal, he had that whole orchestra bringing up their instruments at the same time," she said.
Seeing her son on stage at Orchestra Hall has been a special thrill for Susan. "It's so neat. (Itzhak) Perlman has played there, Yoyo Ma has played there. It gives you chills," she said.
Thomas loves everything about playing the violin and plans to continue, even after he ages out of the Wayne State program. But his love of reading will probably take him down a different career path.
"I want to be a school librarian when I grow up," he said.