UMass Lowell is looking to expand the String Project’s music lessons to K-12 students

UMass Lowell String Project director Nicole Parks, right, practices with program participants, left, Anesh Kotipalli of Chelmsford and Daisy Sullivan of Billerica. (MARLON PETER/HUMAS LOWELL)

LOWELL – Nicole Parks knows the value of a music education. As the new director of UMass Lowell’s String Project, she wants to share the experience of learning — and teaching — music with as many people as possible.

Founded at the university in 2001, the String Project is a music program for K-12 Merrimack Valley public school students who might not otherwise have the chance to learn to play classical string instruments or perform on stage. UMass Lowell music students serve as artist faculty in the program, mentoring young musicians and conducting ensemble performances.

Participants usually perform two concerts a year for family, friends and the public.

The program’s Holiday Concert, a free performance for the community, will be held at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 19, at UMass Lowell’s Comley-Lane Theater in Mahoney Hall, 870 Broadway St., on the university’s South Campus. Free parking will be available next to the hall in the Broadway/Riverview Lot.

A faculty member in the UMass Lowell Music Department, Parks took over as director of the String Project in September. A violinist, she teaches violin and viola and conducts conducting courses. She also conducts the UMass Lowell University Orchestra. Learning music as a child made a lasting impression, and with arts education pushed out of public schools, she believes the String Project’s mission is more important than ever.

“Programs like this are absolutely imperative to a thriving education for children,” she said. “We hope to fill that gap for as many students as possible and offer an education that can be applied to other parts of their lives. If you study music, you don’t just learn about the mechanics of putting a violin on your shoulder or what the notes are; it’s collaboration, listening skills, deciphering what you read on sheet music into a concept that you then try to translate into sound, and an opportunity to collaborate and work with your peers. Students pick up on these things very quickly in music lessons, which can be carried over into their other educational pursuits.”

Participants enrolled in the String Project meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings each semester and are grouped into various ensembles that are led by UMass Lowell music students.

Parks sees great value in the paid teaching experience that UMass Lowell students receive as instructors in the program. “Most music majors will teach at some point in their careers, and it gives them hands-on experience they can use to apply for jobs when they graduate,” she said.

Over time, Parks hopes to expand the range of learners and teachers involved in the String Project by allowing other UMass Lowell students who are not music majors to become instructors. Another goal is to start an adult beginner course for students on campus and members of the Greater Lowell area who are interested in learning the violin, viola or cello.

“Growing the program would be a great thing for everyone,” she said. “With such a huge presence in the local community, UMass Lowell is in a unique place where we can offer this kind of experience to public school students at a very low cost. In this way, we can hopefully engage students who might not otherwise have access to it outside of their schools. I would like to work more together with public schools to understand what their teachers are looking for and how we can collaborate.”

Since its founding at UMass Lowell, the String Project has helped educate thousands of young people, provided UMass Lowell students with valuable teaching experience, and received national recognition from the American Association of String Educators and the National String Project Consortium. The program is a member of the consortium, along with more than 40 other String projects at colleges and universities across the country.

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