June 23. 2013 6:56PM

Instrumental to the arts: Nashua Community Music School's Family Music Fest

Union Leader Correspondent

Nashua resident Bob Ullman and his daughter, Mia, perform with the African drumming group at the Nashua Community Music School's Family Music Fest at Greeley Park on Saturday. (BARBARA TAORMINA PHOTO)

Nashua knows Molly Wood as a musician and piano teacher, but at the Nashua Community Music School’s Family Music Fest on Saturday she showed she’s also handy with a paint brush

Wood, who teaches piano at the school, headed up a team of artists manning a face-painting tent while other volunteers served platters of barbecued food to a crowd that watched as students and friends of the school performed on the stage at Greeley Park.

“Nashua Community Music School is a family school and students come from a lot of different places,” said Wood, who also teaches at Southern New Hampshire University and performs with both local ensembles and regional companies like Opera North.

Wood said one of the things she loves most about the school is its flexible, almost holistic approach to teaching music.

“When you learn to play piano, you learn more about rhythm and different aspects of music,” she said. “You become a more well-rounded musician.”

Since 1984, the Nashua Community Music School has provided a place to learn how to play and perform a wide range of music to aspiring musicians of all ages and abilities. The school offers individual lessons, jazz bands and flute choirs for children and teens and African drumming for anyone who wants to learn how to beat out some rhythms. There are also programs for kids and adults to explore and experiment with different instruments and musical styles.

“We used to be a very small school in the back of a church,” said Executive Director Gillian Hinkle.

Today, the school has a home of its own in the Millyard with 12 rooms for classes and a performance space that seats 50. And Hinkle said the faculty is a deep pool of musical talent.

“We have a lot of people who take private lessons,” said Hinkle. “But we also offer more innovative things.”

In addition to an African drumming group, the school now has a ukulele ensemble and Trash Talk, a percussion group that coaxes rhythms from recycled objects.

And Hinkle is committed to being a resource for all musicians, whatever their tastes and interests happen to be.

“We try our best to work with all kids and adults,” she said, adding if the school can’t provide the type of instruction a student needs, she’ll try to find someplace that can.

But Hinkle said it gets tough keeping up with the city’s diverse musical interests on the school’s shoestring budget. Donations and fundraising events like the Family Music Fest help pay the bills and allow the school to reach out with scholarships for kids who otherwise couldn’t have music lessons.

Professional guitarist and teacher Mike Loce and Kate Leonas, a science teacher as Nashua High School South, were at the Family Music Fest to catch some of the scheduled performers. Both feel the school is a valuable resource for the city, which has a strong arts community and a growing arts economy.

“It’s important to be able to read what the community wants,” said Loce, who added that Nashua has been developing a taste for jazz over the past couple of years.

The school is encouraging a new generation of jazz musicians with an ensemble for high school kids that is geared toward improvisation and experimentation.

For Leonas, Nashua Community Music School is one of the city’s top educational assets.

“At a time, when music and arts are being cut from public schools, it’s important for kids to still be able to get those experiences and opportunities to express themselves,” she said.