Strings program growing

If there’s one thing Northern Kentucky University’s music department isn’t well known for, it’s a string program.

“It’s hard to find one in the Northern Kentucky area,” said faculty member of the music department David Cole. “It’s mostly all on the other side of the river.”

Since 2000, Cole has been working to expand the music department’s string program. He helped bring in the Amernet String Quartet. But when the quartet left to pursue other interests, Cole was back to square one.

“When the Amernet Quartet left, so did the students,” he said. “They transferred with the quartet to other universities. It’s been a rebuilding task ever since.”

While the absence of the quartet proved to be a problem, Cole cited other issues in the development and growth of the program.

“The out-of-state tuition rates prove to be quite a challenge to overcome,” Cole said. “There is also a shortage of string teachers. There are only 5,000 nationwide. Another problem is that a lot of string programs in the country are being phased out.”

With all of Cole’s challenges, his hope of a fully developed string program is on track to becoming a reality since the arrival of the Azmari String Quartet in 2003.

The Azmari String Quartet is comprised of four string musicians and professors: Hugo Bollschweiler, Christina Merblum, Rebecca Merblum and Julie Fischer. Since their tenure began, the number of students enrolled in the program has jumped from 6 to 14.

“You could not ask for a better group of teachers,” said senior string major Farkhad Abdikadirov. “They are extremely professional and inspirational.”

While admitting they face stiff competition from surrounding programs like the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, the quartet believes its program offers something others do not.

“I think what has been drawing students here is the personalized attention they receive,” said Azmari Quartet member Christina Merblum. “Plus the program is very comprehensive and it’s set to thrive because of that.” The quartet also cites that a big plus to the program is their unified view of how to teach music to their students.

“We’re like a family,” Merblum said. “We know our students so well because we spend so much time with them.”

Even though the number of students in the program has grown slowly steadily over the past five years, Cole sees the number of string majors growing.

“We’re still exploring our limit of how many string majors we want in the program,” Cole said. “Forty to 50 would be fantastic but it depends on how rapidly the facilities expand.”