Alumni Help Performance Students Take to Stage

Deep Blue C members (back row, l-r) Christine Petrucci '74, '79, David "Doc" Voss and Margaret Hopkins '77 and student interns (front, from left) Alexia Hernandez and Daniel Jacavanco. Image by David Perry
Deep Blue C members, back row from left, Christine Petrucci '74, '79, David "Doc" Voss and Margaret Hopkins '77 and student interns, front, from left, Alexia Hernandez and Daniel Jacavanco.

By David Perry

Alan Williams was walking through downtown Lowell when he heard the irrepressible beat of salsa music leaking from an open club door. He peeked in. The musicians invited him in.

“These guys were good,” recalls music professor Williams months later. “And I thought, this is right here in Lowell. I remember thinking about all the different ways they rehearse than the way our students rehearse. It was a great learning environment. This was real-world music.”

So began the spark for Williams’ Take it To the Bridge project, which is placing student interns with professional musicians for the fall and spring semesters this year. The initiative is part of his work as the Nancy Donahue Endowed Professor of the Arts.

The program is not only giving students exposure to the music profession, it is bringing alumni back to campus.

Christine Petrucci graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education in 1974, and earned a master’s in 1979. She taught in Chelmsford public schools and, in 2001, founded the Seacoast Academy of Music in North Hampton, N.H. Around the time Williams was designing the Bridge program, Petrucci called him to see what was happening at her alma mater and to let him know about The Deep Blue C Studio Orchestra, the 18-member, New Hampshire-based studio group that she performs with as a pianist and singer. Deep Blue C includes a handful of UML grads and former students, a mix of musicians and music educators who maintain a passion for performance.

Williams agreed the Bridge and Deep Blue C were “a very natural fit,” says Petrucci, and their plans for a collaboration moved forward. Now, two UML seniors, music performance major and violinist Alexia Hernandez and music education major Daniel Jacavanco, are spending the academic year interning with the band, learning from working professionals while helping out with everything from lugging gear to performing on stage.

“We’ll give them the complete experience,” Petrucci says. “They’re getting a schedule of rehearsals, and performances and a couple of private teaching times.”

Senior percussionist Samantha Bodo is interning with Hinge, a quartet that straddles the worlds of rock and avant-garde classical, and two students not yet chosen will be assigned to the Lowell-based, traditional Cambodian Tepniyum Band.

The three groups are meeting with music majors in Durgin Hall in September, then will return in May for a performance that includes their interns.

On Sept. 19, five members of Deep Blue C, including Petrucci, Margaret Hopkins ’77, former UML student and Berklee grad Jake Smith and visiting professor Chuck Gabriel, discussed their work with more than 100 students in Durgin Hall.

Deep Blue C is “one way you can create a life for yourself where you get to produce and you get to create,” Petrucci told the students. “There are lots of options. This is one of them.”

“I feel amazed by this opportunity,” said Jacavanco after the Durgin Hall program. “Having gotten a chance from Alan Williams to work with professionals is so valuable. Vocalists are a dime a dozen, so I feel really honored to be doing this.”

“I really want to teach,” says Hernandez. “I do some of it with the String Project here. It’s my fifth year with them and I really love the idea of a community music program. I’m inspired by Christine and would love to start my own school.”

The Bridge program offers students an education they can use beyond the university, says Williams.

“This program,” says Williams, “was designed to meet our goals of offering our students a chance to work in the real world among experienced professionals.”