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For a song

Music education a childhood passion for CFA associate professor

Sandra Nicolucci (CFA’68,’69, SED’77). Photo by Kalman Zabarsky.

Drifting to sleep in her Connecticut bedroom, 14-year-old Sandra Nicolucci had a vision: “I saw myself sitting on the floor with a group of little kids, playing a guitar and singing with them.”

It was 1960, and “this was not the role modeling I had in parochial school, where we sang Gregorian chants during music class,” she says. And despite her love of the piano — and her extraordinary aptitude for playing it — Nicolucci (CFA’68,’69, SED’77), now an associate professor of music education at the College of Fine Arts school of music, had never really considered teaching music. “So I’m thinking, ‘What is this vision? What does this mean?’ I went to my guidance counselors and asked, ‘Is it possible to train in college to be a music teacher?’ and they said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ So from 14 years old, that was my course.”

Throughout high school, Nicolucci received a great deal of encouragement from her music teachers, virtually all BU alumni. “BU was the place to go to for music education,” she recalls. So off she went to CFA, later earning a doctorate at the School of Education. Since then she’s held teaching and administrative positions in Newton, Brookline, and most recently, Wellesley, where she was K-12 director of performing arts for 18 years. In addition, she taught evening courses at the Boston Conservatory for 32 years and chaired its music education department for 2 years. In 2002, she took on her heaviest workload yet: teaching evening music ed courses at CFA, continuing to teach at the conservatory, and maintaining her position in Wellesley. “Sure, it was a lot,” she says. “But I love this. What’s more important than teaching future teachers?”

After retiring last year from her position in Wellesley, Nicolucci became a full-time BU faculty member. In addition to teaching, advising students, and overseeing student teachers, she has been working, with department chair William McManus, to overhaul the music education curriculum at CFA. “Our undergraduates are now expected to be in the field with children from their first major music education course — sophomore year,” she says. She learned the value of this approach at the Boston Conservatory, where graduates had put in eight semesters of fieldwork and “were already operating like second-year teachers, because they’d had so much exposure to children at all levels.”

Nicolucci also has big plans to connect the school of music with the world. Encouraged by nearly two decades of successful music tours of places like Vienna and New Orleans with her public-school students, she’s been talking with an agency whose mission is educating for global understanding to begin music-centered trips to China.

“I want our students to understand how people everywhere express themselves musically,” she says, “to gain an understanding of how powerful and pervasive music is in the whole world culture.” Such an understanding, Nicolucci fears, is consistently jeopardized by public-school budget cuts, which often trim first music and other arts programs. Despite the obstacles, she and her CFA students are determined to continue working toward a more musical school experience for all kids. “Sculpture and painting and music and dance and all of those fine arts are another way for kids to make meaning out of the world,” she says.