Play is at the Heart of Learning

prek water tableby Rachel Gellis
If you are a parent, I welcome you to take a journey back in time to think about your fondest preschool and kindergarten memories. Did it involve standardized tests? Staring at an iPad? Sitting still in your chair for a length of time? More than likely, these are not the memories that come mind, but unfortunately, this is what school often looks like today. The warm memories you have likely involve making new friends, creating messy art projects, playing cops and robbers on the playground, cooking in the play kitchen and playing restaurant, singing songs with your classmates, learning to tie your shoes, and the best of days when your teacher would take the parachute out of the closet.

Remember what you loved about preschool as a child, while playful and fun, you were learning skills to be successful in the real world. Playing cops and robbers or restaurant, you were learning to make friends, take turns, follow rules, using imagination, and learning how to get along with others. Creating messy art projects, you were flexing your creativity muscle and learning that the process is just as important as the product. You were learning self-help skills and were so proud of yourself when you learned to tie your shoes. You were becoming independent. Although the parachute might have just been for fun, we believe having fun is an integral part of learning.

At South Shore Conservatory, or SSC, we are taking things back to basics. With a comprehensive foundation of social and emotional skills, combined with an arts-integrated curriculum, we are creating a life-long love of learning in our students. Arts-integration is an approach to teaching and learning in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. At SSC, we use various forms of art (drama, music, storytelling, poetry, visual arts, and creative movement) as primary pathways to learning. Through arts-integration, we are giving our children the tools to understand that there are many ways to learn and there is no one right way to learn. The more ways we teach students to learn, the more likely learning is to occur.

Our philosophy is to keep “play” at the heart of most activities as children begin their educational journey. Through play and the arts, we begin to gently introduce academic subjects to young children, and increase the skill level as they continue to grow within our program. Through the arts, young children engage in a creative process which connects an art form to other subject areas. By doing so, they learn key early childhood concepts, and creatively problem-solve and reach benchmarks using his/her own individual learning style. We equip our students with the tools necessary to be successful in the twenty-first century, creating a sense of community through rich art-integrated lessons and activities. Differences are respected and celebrated as each child freely expresses his or her own self.  Using the arts to connect children to the material they are learning, makes it much more meaningful and purposeful.

Learn by “doing” is also our philosophy with parents! The first of every month we invite parents bring their children to an interactive, hands-on Take A Peek Tour, and jump right into the classroom to observe it in full action.  Offering both morning and afternoon sessions lets us accommodate different schedules.  Giving a child the gift of an arts-integrated Preschool/PreK/Kindergarten experience is truly a gift that continues to keep giving throughout that child’s life.

To sign up for a Take A Peek Tour, contact me at or call 781-749-7565, ext. 36.

Rachel Gellis is South Shore Conservatory’s Director of Preschool/PreK/Kindergarten.


From dream to reality: bringing the arts to all communities

YouthChorus_FallConcert_0039By Anne Smith
One year ago, I was home during a snowstorm when an email arrived from Malissa Kenney.  Malissa is social worker and advocate, well known on the South Shore for her work with the ARC, serving individuals with disabilities. As an after-school volunteer at the Algonquin Heights affordable housing community in Plymouth, Malissa was well acquainted with the challenges facing that neighborhood. She wrote me in the hopes that together we could provide arts programming to the families living there.

As Director of Community Engagement at SSC, I work with community groups and social service organizations to provide access to the arts off-site, away from our campuses in Hingham and Duxbury.  SSC’s mission is to make the arts available to everyone, regardless of age, ability, location, or financial status.  A partnership with Algonquin Heights fit seamlessly in to both our vision and our experience. This is a community right in the center of Plymouth, but isolated from many of the cultural opportunities the town has to offer.  Financial challenges and lack of transportation mean that most children can’t participate in after-school activities. Malissa wrote, “We want to bolster the community and give the kids an opportunity to tap into their talents, have fun, and build self-confidence.  All those great things happen when you’re involved in arts.”

In the weeks following, we met with Malissa, fellow volunteer Kathy Dunn, and Ami Knight, Director of Resident Services to brainstorm opportunities to provide the community with arts programming. The partnership began in earnest last June with a series of community-wide drum circles drawing over 150 residents, from grandparents to teens to moms and babies, into active, joyful music-making.

Since then, the partnership has flourished.  Contributions from private donors as well as a generous grant from South Shore Community Partners in Prevention Community Health Network have allowed SSC to provide programming free-of-charge.  This fall, VERC Rentals and VERC Enterprises teamed up to donate access to a van to bring young singers from Plymouth to our Duxbury campus every Monday for the SSC Youth Chorus. With some of the funds raised by our annual Chase Away the Winter Blues gala, SSC provided full scholarships for eight singers from Algonquin Heights.

Led by Peter Mundt, beloved music educator from the Scituate school district, SSC Youth Chorus meets once a week from September through May.  Peter believes his role is to promote a feeling of community and family among his singers. “Whenever there’s an act of kindness I try to highlight it. These kids care about each other.  They take care of each other.  This opens everyone up to taking risks. I really want them to feel comfortable and courageous. When kids are excited about music, I feel like it’s opening up their personality and who they are inside.  Singing allows them to express their true selves.”

The power of this partnership is felt deeply by Algonquin Heights’ administrative staff. Ami Knight came to support the young singers at their first chorus concert in December.  The next day, she wrote, “Last night was beautiful.  I cried during the concert and sat in my car after and cried. I don’t know if you all understand how much it means to these kids to have people follow through, to encourage and support them and to not cancel things and to not give up on them.  The children that participate in the program have the ‘normal’ kid stress along with other obstacles.  Because of the family financial limitations and lack of transportation they cannot participate in many enrichment programs. They cannot expand their horizons outside of the community.  You all worked together to remove the obstacle of transportation and with the sponsorship allowed them to participate, to learn and to meet others.  You never canceled a rehearsal.  You never forgot to pick them up.  You encourage them to be their best and they were.  They absolutely were.”

At SSC we believe that the arts change lives. Our annual Chase Away the Winter Blues gala helps us fund partnership efforts such as this one with Algonquin Heights.  The year’s gala is Saturday, January 27 at the Boston Marriot Quincy, 1000 Marriot Drive in Quincy.  The SSC Youth Chorus will be featured performers that night.  For information about the Blues, the SSC Youth Chorus and Community Partnerships, visit



Make music your New Life resolution

violin-lesson-600x380by Lorna Jane Norris
As the year turns we often find ourselves thinking about what we want to achieve over the next year. Sometimes it’s a practical and measurable goal, such as getting a new job, repainting the house, or losing ten pounds. There’s something about the New Year opportunity window, though, that invites us to consider creating more meaning in our lives; spending more time with loved ones, spending more time reading and less time on social media, or planting an herb garden.

At South Shore Conservatory (SSC), we always see an increase in inquiries for music lessons right after the New Year.  This year we’re making it easier for folks to get started by offering the first lesson for free through the end of February.  Music is just one of those beautiful things we all want to experience more of, isn’t it?

I love what visionary author Kurt Vonnegut said when asked to identify the single most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. “My Lord, that’s a tough question because there is so much beauty, really; it’s what keeps me going in life, is just glimpsing beauty all the time. I suppose the most beautiful thing, although you can’t exactly see it, is music,” he answered.

Wow. Drop the mic. It’s important to point out here that Vonnegut was not a musician, but an author. You don’t have to be a musician to see the beauty in it, and you don’t have to be a musician to enjoy taking music lessons. In fact, that’s kind of the point of the lessons. When I read something like this, I feel so much gratitude for my music education and for the privilege of working at an organization whose mission is to change lives through music.

Another quote I find inspiring was in opera composer Jake Heggie’s address to the 2017 graduating class of Northwestern’s music school.  He told the graduates, “Music is essential – and it is essentially optimistic. It is about the future: the very best of what we can achieve together when we open our hearts and minds to strive for something great and seemingly unreachable. It is about the deepest stirrings in our hearts and souls. And people are absolutely starved for it.”

So, satisfy your hunger and schedule your or your child’s first private music lesson for free. Our placement team will get to know a little bit about you and your learning style, identify what you are looking for, and work to pair you up with a teacher to help you on your way. If you don’t know what instrument you would like to study (we include voice as an instrument), we can help with that too. SSC has 47 years of experience providing high quality music lessons to over 1000 students a week. You’ve got to admit that’s a lot of students!

Visit or call 781-749-7565, ext. 37 before February 28 to take advantage of the free lesson. You can also find South Shore Conservatory on Facebook.  Don’t wait to make music your new life resolution!

Lorna Jane Norris is South Shore Conservatory’s Vice President of Education.


Helping Suzuki Hurricane Victims through Music

hurricane relief studentsBy Lauren Whittaker

Watching the devastation of Hurricane Harvey on the nightly news motivated me to seek a way help, but what was the best way?!  Concluding that a monetary donation was the greatest help I could offer left me in a second quandary: where to donate?  Red Cross?  Celebrity phone-a-thon?  (It’d be fun to talk to a well-known celebrity directly!  Oprah?)  Perhaps a local drive?

Then, as a Suzuki piano teacher at South Shore Conservatory, registered with the Suzuki Association of the Americas, I received an email from them with the subject line “Suzuki Hurricane Relief Fund.”  They were suggesting that my students participate in a practice-a-thon, with the goal of raising funds, through pledges, to assist Suzuki teachers and families in the Southeast Texas and Louisiana area, while strengthening my their practice habits and making beautiful music in honor of those who affected by the storm. This was IT!  A way to help a very real need in a way I hadn’t thought about before!

The fund’s priorities were to replace instruments ruined by the hurricane, and help to pay for lessons for those unable to afford to pay, due to the devastation. Of course, no piano is going to fit in a lifeboat, and when the boat came, those with smaller instruments would have had no time to run to find them, so this was a wonderful solution.

SSC knows that participating in music programs has the capacity to increase children’s sense of social responsibility so for both the SSC students and the music students in Houston, this practice-a-thon really was a win-win situation. The more my students practiced, the stronger their piano skills grew and the more they raised for the children who lost so much in the hurricane.  Their practice time included home practice time, listening time, lessons, groups, and recitals!

The program included both September and October, a total of 61 days, at the piano.  Students completed a practice chart then had a parent initial it every day.  Then they added up the minutes.  I pledged one cent per minute at the piano to each of my students.

Nine of my students, ages four-and-a-half to eleven, elected to participate, and did they ever learned some invaluable lessons!  Seven-year old Lily, enjoyed recording her minutes and her mom reported that she practiced more regularly each morning before school.  She told her mom that she felt “happy and helpful” to participate.  Another five-year-old, a new student, had trouble grasping the idea of a practice-a-thon.  But her mom explained it and the idea blossomed.  Near the end, she exclaimed to her mom, “I feel great to help and practice and then give money for the people who don’t have any instruments anymore because I still have my piano!”

Another five-year-old, after only a short introduction from me, learned all of a new piece the first week of the practice-a-thon – on her own by taking the time to listen to her CD repeatedly!  The bounce in her step as she came into my studio and the joy on her face with her new ability had me close to tears!

In the end, the students practiced over 4000 minutes and collected donations of almost $1000.

And they reaped the lasting benefits:  while not required to practice more than their normal amount of time, many of the participating students did.  Some are still maintaining their new habit.  What a pleasure it is working with these children at their lesson.  The joy of mastering something new – a new piece, a new scale, a new and difficult passage – has become the new normal!  The “I Can!” attitude is going viral!

Learn more about SSC’s Suzuki instruction at


Chasing away the winter blues in January

South Shore Conservency Gala, January 28, 2017.By Liz Graham
About 18 months ago, I decided to return to work after taking almost five years off to be home with my two little girls. My family was living in Boston at the time, and in the middle of building a home in Hingham. I often think that I must have been a little insane to take on a new job, look for a rental home, and enter the final stages of the building process! However, when I began my work with South Shore Conservatory (SSC), I knew it was the exact right time for me, and for them.

My main focus at SSC, is to organize our annual gala, Chase Away the Winter Blues. The Blues is our largest fundraiser of the year, with proceeds benefitting Community Partnerships, Creative Arts Therapy and our tuition assistance program. Before I started working at SSC, this beloved event had always been a huge success.  But by 2017, it was due for a change.

My challenge was to move the venue from our Hingham campus, where the event was bursting at the seams, to a larger space, giving us the opportunity to tell our story, and ultimately raise more funds than ever before. Luckily, I had an incredibly engaged committee that worked enthusiastically and energetically to make the evening special, as well as helpful SSC colleagues, both providing guidance and support throughout the entire planning process. The event, held at the River Club in Scituate last year, was a magical evening of show-stopping performances, an exciting live auction and touching stories about the impact SSC has on our students’ lives.  It was a fun, thrilling evening, and I, for one, can’t wait to do it again this year!

This year’s Chase Away the Winter Blues, co-chaired by Linda Jones and Christine Puzo, takes place Saturday, January 27 at the Boston Marriott Quincy. The venue is beautiful and large enough to accommodate the large crowd the event draws.  The evening starts with a conversational cocktail hour, followed by dinner and a short presentation.  SSC’s talented faculty will be performing in various performances throughout the evening, and we are thrilled to introduce an After Party this year, for those who may wish to come for an evening of dancing after their children are tucked into bed.  With this new event, we are hoping to engage even more people within our community. We look forward to dancing the night away to the sounds of East Coast Soul and celebrating the fabulous work of SSC.

Through fundraising efforts, SSC strives to reach more and more communities and people who may not, otherwise, have access to music education. The Blues gala not only helps us to do just that, but also helps us get the word out about the diverse populations we serve. It’s truly a memorable event.  I hope to see you there!

South Shore Conservatory’s Chase Away the Winter Blues gala is Saturday, January 27, 6 pm at Boston Marriot Quincy, 1000 Marriot Drive, Quincy.  To purchase tickets, become a sponsor, or for more information, visit or contact Liz Graham at or 781-749-7565 ext. 14.

Liz Graham of Hingham is South Shore Conservatory’s Special Events and Corporate Relations Liaison.