A cultural gem in East Texas
Music plays a vital role in the cultural life of a community, and Panola County boasts a rich and varied musical history. This area can be proud of the musical group Project String Power and the impact it has on the lives of those who want to learn how to play stringed instruments. This year marks Project String Power’s 10th anniversary, and looking at its upcoming schedule, the group looks to be busier than ever. From its inception in 2006 with a handful of students to the large and successful group into which it has grown, Project String Power has impacted the musical landscape of this area in a positive way. Leonard Kacenjar and Nancy Spanial Blake, co-founders of Project String Power, continue in various leadership roles within the organization, and several other accomplished musicians teach various instruments.
Kacenjar retired in 2015 after conducting the Marshall Symphony Orchestra for 39 years. He brings a wealth of experience and talent to his students, and he also brings a spiritual aspect to teaching and performing music. Kacenjar has no plans to slow down, and is looking forward to contributing many more successful years to Project String Power.
Nancy Spanial Blake now plays with the Silver Dew Bluegrass Band and, along with her husband Tim Blake and Kent Gill, teaches that genre of music to string players. Nancy teaches guitar and upright bass, while Tim teaches the banjo and Kent teaches the fiddle. She, too, has no intention of slowing down and loves the camaraderie that comes in playing bluegrass.
(A side note: do you know the difference between a fiddle and a violin? Physically, no difference exists. It's all in how you play it!)
Five separate groups now make up Project String Power, and students can join any of them: Super Group Orchestra; Texas Made Rock Band; Silver Dew Bluegrass Band; Piney Woods Harp Ensemble; and Fourte’, a four-part cello group. The Super Group Orchestra plays almost exclusively a classical repertoire, from music composed in the Middle Ages all the way to current classical-style compositions. Maestro Kacenjar leads this group and Evgeni Raychev, Karen McGarrett and Kacenjar teach the students in the orchestra. Martyn Popey directs the Texas Made Rock Band and teaches string bass and guitar. Leading and teaching the Silver Dew Bluegrass Band is Kent Gill, with Tim Blake helping and teaching banjo. Karen McGarrett coordinates and directs the Piney Woods Harp Ensemble, and Mr. Raychev leads Fourte’.
As part of their 10-year celebration, three of the groups played a concert on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at Central Baptist Church. In addition to their regular weekly rehearsals and teaching sessions, their upcoming schedule includes the following events:
Irish Fest at St. William of Vercelli Catholic Church, Saturday, March 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Performance of Messiah at St. John Episcopal Church, Friday, March 25th at 12:00 p.m.
Mrs. Joyce Hughes, the chairperson of Project String Power, says the group’s status as a (501)(c)(3) non-profit organization allows businesses and individuals to make tax-deductible donations to this worthy organization. According to Mrs. Hughes, “I wish that my kids had had the opportunity that Project String Power affords to people in this area. We are blessed to have students come from several surrounding counties to take advantage of the education they get from our teachers. As we continue to grow, we hope to add even more students and more groups, and to do that takes a substantial amount of money. Any amount that individuals, businesses and civic organizations give is greatly appreciated.”
The group incurs quite a bit of expense each year and the tuition from student lessons only pays part of the costs. Project String Power gives scholarships to those who may be interested, so monetary donations go to a good cause. In addition to local concerts and recitals, members of Project String Power Super Group Orchestra have traveled to Washington, D.C. to present concerts at Walter Reed Wounded Warriors Hospital. Past overseas trips include tours of Germany, Austria and Ireland where the group has presented concerts at several churches and other venues.
Project String Power keeps an active social media presence through facebook, and upcoming events and information about concerts can be found on their facebook page. For more information about Project String Power or to find out about playing with the group, call 903.263.0598 or visit their Project String Power website.
The future holds great promise for Project String Power. New students continue to choose the group and its leaders as a way to increase their abilities with string instruments and to widen their horizons with a varied genre of musical styles. The group welcomes students of all ages, and looks forward to contributing to the musical and cultural life of Panola County for many years to come.