The late violinist, conductor and beloved Everett music teacher Gene Nastri inspired young musicians for 60 years in Snohomish County.
Many went on to gloried musical careers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom.
Nastri, known as “Mr. Strings,” died in 1997. But a local community school of arts continues in his name and with his mission to provide quality arts education to students.
“Stories about him are legend,” Carol Harkins said. “Whether or not a student went on to become a good string player, students always gained a love and appreciation for music that was lifelong.”
Harkins founded The Gene Nastri Community School of Arts, which was based at the old Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo for many years.
When old Rosehill was demolished in December 2010 to make way for a new building, Harkins, the school’s director, knew she had to look for another home for her school.
She found one.
Instead of putting the Nastri school in some strip mall or other storefront, Harkins moved the school into a 3,000-square-foot, 1965-era home on Mukilteo Speedway. The school opened at its new location in March 2011.
Harkins calls the new place perfect, with its ample studio space, an art and drama room, and a greenhouse.
Harkins has decorated the place with fabulous pieces of artwork from her collection and removed 30 years of old carpet.
But the new school isn’t totally perfect. Not yet.
The place needs a horse.
“I’d like to have a horse and goats and chickens and rabbits and a pot-bellied pig, and all that stuff,” Harkins said during a recent tour of the property.
What Harkins wants ultimately is for the Gene Nastri School to be the site of the first 4-H club in Mukilteo.
The school sits on 9 acres of combination pasture, forest and lawn, with a barn and grapes and blackberries.
4-H is a hands-on youth development program that offers kids the chance to learn by doing with such projects as gardening and bee-keeping.
Though there is a thriving community garden in Mukilteo, it’s not kid-focused like a 4-H would be, Harkins said.
Though 4-H is more agriculture-based, the program would complement the mission of the Nastri school, which is to expand a student’s world and help kids become productive members of society.
Besides, art and agriculture go together, Harkins said.
“Look at artists. Where do they go to find their inspiration? They go to the land,” Harkins said. “And we’ve got it here, and I think it fits together very nicely.”
Unlike the lessons at the school, the 4-H activities would be free and run by volunteers.
That’s where Harkins needs help. She needs adult volunteers and teachers to help move the 4-H vision forward.
Harkins said it would be a “tragedy to see such valuable acreage in the center of Mukilteo not being put to good use.”
Whether 4-H takes off at the Nastri school remains to be seen.
For now, the school’s faculty continues to teach students to play the violin, piano and guitar, and to sing, paint and draw.
The Gene Nastri School fits a critical need for the community, said faculty member Patrice Weed Shearer, who teaches violin and is concertmaster of the Everett Philharmonic Orchestra.
“It’s really important right now for kids to be involved in some kind of discipline, particularly the arts,” Weed Shearer said. “The arts so strongly help in every other aspect of life, their school performance, in math, and it’s so rewarding.”
Harkins said offering arts education means improving one’s quality of life. She said an arts education also opens doors in terms of music scholarships and opportunities to travel.
Harkins founded the school in 1984 and named it after Gene Nastri, who set the standards high for his students in discipline and artistry and believed in developing “the whole child.”
“Every town, county, state needs a Gene Nastri,” Harkins said. “Everett was fortunate to have one, and it seems only natural that he should be remembered with a school. His is a huge legacy to carry, and I hope we do it well.”
Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Nastri school
The Gene Nastri Community School of the Arts is at 8616 Mukilteo Speedway, Mukilteo; 425-789-1097 or email at email@example.com. The school is currently registering students for private lessons. Go to www.genenastrischool.org/.
If you are interested in training to become a 4-H volunteer, contact Marilyn Segle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425-357-6044. Training for 4-H leadership is provided by the Washington State University Extension Office.
Faculty for the Gene Nastri School holds free concerts and instrument petting zoos as a way for children to learn the sounds and feel of musical instruments. Members of the Kamiak Music Service Club and Mukilteo Community Orchestra join the Nastri faculty for the concerts and instrument petting zoo.
Aug. 1: Noon performance followed by instrument petting zoo, 1 to 3 p.m., plaza at Rosehill Community Center, 304 Lincoln Ave., Mukilteo. Guitarist Al Smith plays “Classical Gas,” “Summertime,” “Autumn Leaves,” “St. Thomas,” “The Girl from Ipanema.”
Aug. 4: Instrument petting zoo, 1 to 3 p.m., Mukilteo Library, 4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd., Mukilteo.
Aug. 9: Concert at 6:30 p.m. followed by instrument petting zoo, 7:30 to 9 p.m., Rosehill plaza.
Aug. 23: Concert at 6:30 p.m. followed by instrument petting zoo, 7:30 to 9 p.m. Rosehill plaza. “Silver &Strings,” with music from Piazzola, Giuliani, Faure and Tarrega featuring faculty members Kristi Wiant on flute and Al Smith on guitar.
Sept. 8: Instrument petting zoo, noon to 3 p.m., Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival, Mukilteo Lighthouse Park, 609 Front St.