Durham County

History grove honors founder of Duke University String School

Tucked in a shady corner of Oval Drive Park is a violin-shaped bench meant to mark the music that Dorothy Kitchen inspired.

Kitchen, 79, is a musician and a scholar, but her passion for educating young musicians is how she made her mark across the Triangle.

Kitchen, co-founder of the 50-year-old Duke University String School, was honored Sunday at the dedication of Durham’s 12th history grove. Dozens of Kitchen’s former students, colleagues, admirers and neighbors attended the ceremony at the park off West Club Boulevard in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood.

Steve Channing, who spoke on behalf of the Museum of Durham History, said museum officials created the history grove project several years ago to “plant their flag in different neighborhoods” and honor individuals who made the Bull City a better place.

The Museum of Durham History partners with local organizations to plant native trees and small plants. Each grove also contains a bench and a marker identifying the honoree.

The Kitchen grove came together through efforts of neighbors, the string school and other organizations.

The Duke University String School provides music education for 250 students ages 5 to 18. The program offers about 15 scholarships through the Dorothy Kitchen scholarship fund.

Kitchen, who retired as director from the program in 2014, also taught junior choir at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church for 30 years. She also taught at public schools, camps and private lessons.

Metal artist Perry Whitted, 57, made the 10-foot-long, violin-shaped bench after consulting with Kitchen and talking about art, passion, and the importance of mentors.

Before the Sunday dedication ceremony, Kitchen, who lives in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale neighborhood, said the honor grew out of a city that backs the education of children in the arts. She was able to start the school and bring music to youth because so many people were willing to help her.

The violin-shaped bench, she said, is place where anyone can play a musical instrument, even if they don’t have any talent or experience.

“You don’t know what that will inspire people to do,” she said.

The dedication program included four performances from youth ages 6 to 16, including Carlos Mauri Bardales.

Bardales, 16, first asked his dad to let him play the violin when he was 5.

“After two years of nagging him, he finally took me to a concert,” he said. “It happened to be at the Duke string school, and I just loved it even more.”

At the string school, Kitchen helped Bardales to improve by pushing him with her balanced teaching style.

“She asks a lot. She expects excellence, but she is not a mean or a tough teacher,” he said. “She has this wonderful balance of asking something of her students and also making it somewhat enjoyable for them.”

Now he attends high school at the the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, a public school in Winston-Salem that students have to apply to attend.

Bardales returned to Durham to play for Kitchen’s history grove dedication.

“With words I cannot help thank you enough for everything you have done to help me improve and grow, but through music I will try,” he said, with his voice wavering a bit. Then he put his bow to the violin and gracefully played a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges