Many in Andover view Lawrence by its crime rates, but one woman, holding a violin, saw another type of crime in the city: not having enough art in the schools.
A decade and a half later, her Community Strings program teaches youth in four of the city's schools, as well as out of its director's Andover home.
Sixty-two-year-old Marcia Lier, who started the program in 1997 with just three students, said she wanted to teach children how to play music because it influenced her childhood, and she's seen that it is not as prominently featured in schools today.
"This population wasn't getting the arts, and that was a crime. That was just ... there was no creation of beauty in their lives," said Lier, sitting in a classroom at the Community Day Charter Public School in Lawrence. "There isn't just the lack of academic skills. These are traumatized lives, and music is an answer to that."
Lier's speciality is the violin, one of the most difficult, but celebrated, instruments to play. She teaches it to children as early as kindergarten and first grade, and a portion of her students stay with her for so long, they themselves now teacher younger Community Strings students how to play. Today, over 70 students are enrolled.
"I start off every lesson with saying, 'This is the hardest instrument to play in the world, and you're going to do it,'" said Lier. "Performing does a lot of good. It gives you confidence, poise."
The biological nature of music - its ability to bring scenes to life and convey human emotion - gives students that much more to strive for, she explained.
"You're working with human emotion. You're working with joy, sorrow," said Lier. "You're always telling a story."
After several years, Lier started encountering many students who weren't in one of the Lawrence schools she taught at, which drove her to create another program in her home that works with students not just from Lawrence, but from Andover, Boxford and other communities. Twelve to 18 students are in her at-home program at any given time, and they see her every weekend.
"In a way, Saturday is one of my favorite days," said Lier. "It's free. You have a really good feeling."
Kyle Brennan, 13 and from Lawrence, was in the first grade when he first started playing violin with Lier. Now, eight years later, he's gearing up for attending the Essex Agricultural High School in Danvers, but he's leaving behind someone he said feels like a second mother.
"She's not just my teacher. She's my friend," said Kyle. "She can be strict, but it's a good kind of strict, like your mom says, 'Eat your vegetables — it's good for you later on.'"
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