GROTON — Music is for everyone, especially children.
Groton Hill Music Center has thriving public school educational outreach programs in Fitchburg, Lowell, Lawrence, and Clinton as well as the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, providing free music education to underserved young people from diverse backgrounds.
These programs provide free band, orchestral, string, percussion, and electronic music programs to students who might not otherwise have the chance to learn to play or experience music.
Pupils learn to read music, improvise, and fluently play their chosen instrument individually and together, with and without a conductor.
“We saw a disparity between what kids in affluent towns have for music programs in their schools, versus what kids in less affluent cities and towns have. We feel that this disparity is completely unacceptable, and decided that it aligned with our mission to partner with municipalities in our region — namely Fitchburg and Lowell — to bridge those gaps,” said Pete Robbins, director of education and performance programming.
Groton Hill’s program in Lowell is part of the school district’s “Afternoons in the Arts” program, a collaboration with Groton Hill offering instruction for middle school band and string orchestra students from schools all around Lowell during school hours and after school as well as other programs like visual art, theater, dance, choir, and television production.
Only in its second year, the music afterschool program has had a 35% student growth rate. The string orchestra program currently serves 35 students and the band program serves 30 students. Students in Lowell play a string, wind, brass, or percussion instrument.
The Fitchburg middle school string program has grown to 37 students that play a string instrument, mostly the violin, in a program that’s been running for over three years. They worked with acclaimed guest musicians to learn a tune that they performed In May with world-renowned Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas on Groton Hill’s Concert Hall stage.
“Being in these programs gives students a chance to express themselves musically,” said Holly Johnston, the Program Director for Lowell’s Afternoons in the Arts.
“Our students feel a sense of belonging that they wouldn’t feel without it,” agreed Fallyn Fournier, band director at the Memorial Middle School in Fitchburg.
The year-round afterschool programs at the Fitchburg, Leominster, and Gardner Boys & Girls Clubs teach kids bucket drumming and ukulele as well as music theory, rhythm, and ear training. Many of the participants there don’t get a chance to have music classes or band options at school.
In Lawrence High School and Clinton’s middle and high schools, brass and wind sectionals are held, providing support to band teachers; sectionals are rehearsals for instrument sections in an orchestra.
“After school programs provide a sense of community and belonging to students who don’t have a sport and special activity outside of music that they identify with. A lot of students who join these programs are students who have found a love for music that they get the chance to expand upon in their own time,” said Laura Altenor, community engagement and summer programs manager.
She added, “They learn responsibility, accountability, how to work with people from different backgrounds, and music fundamentals they don’t get to experience in school. A lot of students come from different financial backgrounds as well and these programs are of no cost to families.”
For many students, this is their second or third year with most continuing, and tons of new additions joining the increasingly popular programs each year. Last year Groton Hill served about 246 students and this year they served 922.
They’re also adding additional instrument options in the Fitchburg program next year and anticipate increased enrollment across the board.
Currently, eight Groton Hill faculty members work with the community partner schools and a number of other instructors teach strings, percussion, band, and brass to the students there.
Part of Groton Hill’s mission is to “share the transformative power of music” and access to education and professional musicians in the communities it serves through “music philanthropy.”
“We feel that all students deserve access to high quality music education and performance as part of their growth and development, and we want to do whatever we can to provide it wherever it’s needed,” Robbins said.
Fitchburg and Lowell students practice performance etiquette by performing for each other at the midpoint of each semester and then get to perform at themed winter and spring performances where students play pieces for their family, friends, and classmates in the world-class Concert Hall at Groton Hill. They also get field trips to places like Six Flags for competitions and masterclasses with guest artists throughout the year.
“The kids have come from just picking up their instruments and holding their hands backwards, to playing Beethoven, and concert marches, and the growth has been exponential … It’s the result of a great team and really good attitudes from the students. They’re always willing to learn, and it’s been the thrill of a lifetime,” said David Mañuel García, band instructor for Lowell Afternoon in the Arts.
The plan is for the middle school program to become a “feeder program” for there to be an orchestra at the high school levels in Fitchburg and Lowell.
Even if students choose not to continue playing music in the long-term, Robbins said, “Being a performer and being an audience member are two sides of the same coin, and a quality music education provides the foundation for a lifetime of enjoyment and growth through both experiencing and making music.”
But many young people do get the spark to continue with music.
“This program has really changed how I think about violin. I used to not like it as much. I was starting to lose love for my favorite instrument. But ever since we were able to take the trip to Groton Hill to work with the musicians and play in a concert there, I have found my love for violin again. I plan to take lessons at Groton Hill next year when I go to high school,” said Fitchburg Memorial Middle School eighth-grader Eileen Johnson.
Many students in the public school and club programs have expressed interest in additional lessons at Groton Hill’s campus, which serves 1,700 private students across lessons, classes, and ensembles teaching 35 instruments and voice by over 80 faculty members. They’ve also expressed a desire to take part in Groton Hill summer camps and programs.
Transportation is an issue for many, with driving back and forth from Groton every day or even once a week an impossibility for many parents. Groton Hill is looking for a way to “bridge that gap” to get more students from the community schools to their programming at Groton Hill, Altenor said.
For more information or to donate to these programs, go to grotonhill.org.