Gene Nichols Receives Maine Music Educator of the Year Award

“Teaching,” says long-time University of Maine Music music instructor, Gene Nichols, “is mostly planting seeds and not knowing when or where they might sprout.”  

One of Nichols’ seeds was planted in the mind of Jeff Shaw, a UMM alum who graduated in 2000 with a IFA/BA with a music concentration. “Over seventeen years ago, Gene Nichols and I had a conversation in Machias,” says Shaw, now Executive Director of Maine Academy of Modern Music, “and it started all this.”  

By “all this,” Shaw is referring to the statewide nonprofit he founded that now provides music education to over a thousand Maine kids each year. Of those, approximately half are supported by scholarships that MAMM raises annually. MAMM’s Washington County presence is hefty, with programs in place through partner organizations UMM, Maine Seacoast Mission’s EdGE program, and Cobscook Community Learning Center. Between 75 and 100 children across the county receive music lessons or other instruction through MAMM. These programs include weeklong rock and roll camps held at UMM each summer.  

A graduate of UMM, Shaw was back on campus recently to honor his mentor, Gene Nichols, with MAMM’s 2017 Maine Music Educator award: the inaugural year of an award that will now be open to statewide nominations. The theme of the award is Rock Stars in Our Community. “Gene was the obvious choice for this award. He was a critical part of the vision for MAMM, and is actively involved in its Downeast programs. In many ways, Gene is central to all things music in Downeast Maine.” 

After teaching for several music schools in greater Portland, Shaw determined that there was a need for something more than the offerings available and launched MAMM. During its first five years, the organization primarily served kids in Portland, but in 2012, statewide programs with full scholarships appeared on the MAMM menu. “With Gene’s help, we brought free music lessons to kids in Washington County. None of this would be here without him.” 

The award itself, handed to Nichols at a ceremony at UMM on October 25, was appropriately a gold record. “Everyone should learn an instrument and get into a garage band,” said Nichols upon receiving his award. “Playing music with other people is the most exhilarating feeling!”