2014-01-24 / Front Page

Yes, There are Strings Attached

By Mary Alexandre


Children at the Martin Luther King Center learn the technique of using a violin bow with pencils first. Children at the Martin Luther King Center learn the technique of using a violin bow with pencils first. This has been a building year for the Newport String Project. The small but ambitious group established a chamber music series and also launched a music education program in partnership with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center and Newport County Boys and Girls Clubs. Professional violinists EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks and Ealaín McMullin give violin and viola lessons twice a week to 18 underserved children in kindergarten to fourth grade from the after-school program at the center, using “movement, rhythm games, singing, listening exercises and stories to help students explore their roles as members of an ensemble and of a community,” Holmes-Hicks said.

Holmes-Hicks is principal second violinist with the New Bedford Symphony and is on faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and the Birch Creek Summer Performance Center.


Ealaín McMullin was first introduced to chamber music though concerts given by the Apple Hill Chamber Players near her home in Donegal, Ireland. Ealaín McMullin was first introduced to chamber music though concerts given by the Apple Hill Chamber Players near her home in Donegal, Ireland. The students didn’t start out playing their violins and violas right away, though. Lessons in the early weeks taught them how to respect and care for these delicate, somewhat foreign instruments. At two family workshops held in November at the Newport County Boys and Girls Clubs, children created their own uniquely-designed cardboard violins and violas. Over the past several weeks, students gradually added parts to the prototypes and watched them transform into something that looks and feels quite a bit like the real thing.

This week marks a milestone in the educational program. The youngsters will soon perform together for the first time, before an audience of parents, community members, donors and other friends at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. At the end of the ceremony, they will receive their actual wooden violins and violas.

The Newport String Project has big plans for the future. “The hope is that we will be able to add cello instruction next year, to model the program on a real string quartet,” Holmes-Hicks said. They want to offer individual as well as group lessons and eventually expand to serve more students.

A long-term goal is to establish a resident professional Newport string quartet to perform at concerts and in schools, and to have a lasting impact on the cultural life of Newport and benefit all residents, regardless of economic circumstances.

The Newport String Project will perform at Emmanuel Church this weekend for the next concert in its free chamber music series, playing the music of Brahms and Stravinsky. The performance is Saturday afternoon, Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. and will feature the talents of guest artists, cellist Lauren Latessa and pianist Ben Nacar, as well as the founders of Newport String Project, violinists Holmes- Hicks and McMullin. Works will include Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 Op. 8 and Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne.

Initial funding for the Newport String Project has come from the Newport County Fund of the Rhode Island Foundation, the NewportFed Charitable Foundation, Prince Charitable Trusts, and other organizations.

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