Monday, November 15, 2010

Kay George Roberts: 'I experienced first-hand how important early exposure to music can be for a child'

[Dr. Kay George Roberts]

This is the third installment of a cover story in UMass Lowell Magazine, Spring 2009, Vol. 12, No. 1: Bringing Music to the People: Kay George Roberts, Ambassador with a Baton. It was written by Geoffrey Douglas. The Faculty Bio of Dr. Kay George Roberts summarizes her positions: “Nancy Donahue Professor in the Arts; Professor, Performance; Area Head, Orchestral Strings; Director, UMass Lowell String Project & Lowell Youth Orchestra (LYO)”:

“In 2001, she founded the UMass Lowell String Project, which some would say has been her trademark achievement. An after-school training program for inner-city schoolchildren, it offers stringed-instrument lessons under the guidance of a master teacher – adjunct faculty member and alumna Susan Turcotte Gavriel ’75, as well as Umass Lowell string students as apprentice teachers – to Lowell public school students from third grade through high school. The program was initially funded through grants from the American String Teachers Association and the Parker Foundation, with matching funds from the University and support from the city’s schools. Her motives for founding the program are deeply personal – rooted in memories of a segregated city and a long-ago teacher’s vision and courage. The String Project could almost be said to be the legacy of Robert Holmes.

“'I founded it, as a community outreach program for children in Lowell, because I experienced first-hand how important early exposure to music can be for a child,' says Roberts. 'Our budget is very modest, with many in-kind services. But the master teacher, the student teachers and guest teachers still need to be paid, and the rental for the kids’ instruments is costly. Funding is a major priority for me – because it’s just so very worthwhile. Over the past eight years, almost a thousand Lowell public school students, some from the city’s most underserved neighborhoods, have learned to play a stringed instrument. Their joy of making music is absolutely contagious.' The String Project, though, was only the beginning. Three years later, she founded the New England Orchestra (NEO), also based in Lowell, a professional chamber orchestra whose goal is to reflect the city’s diversity, linking its various cultures through the medium of music. In the early fall of 2007, NEO performed a concert in the Merrimack Repertory Theatre as part of a month-long 'On the Road in Lowell' tribute to Jack Kerouac.

“Last year, on the occasion of the UMass Lowell Peace and Conflict Institute’s (PACSI’s) annual Day Without Violence, it put on a concert to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King—this time, for the first time ever, with a side-by-side performance from Kay Roberts’ String Project students. 'We intend to nurture a new generation of concert goers with the discovery of the joy of music, and the young talent representing the next generation of artists,' Roberts told reporters at the time. Just a few months before the Kerouac event, in the spring of 2007, Roberts put together a very different kind of tribute – similar only in that, like all her signature work, its focus remained on the fusing of musical cultures."

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