Three SSC piano students perform at Carnegie Hall

Sophie, Abigail and Austin at Carnegie Hall

Sophie, Abigail and Austin pose at Carnegie Hall

South Shore Conservatory (SSC) congratulates piano students Sophie Smith, 10, Abigail Mercer, 10, and Austin Smith, 8, of Hingham, who recently performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in the Celebration of Excellence Recital.  The trio was invited to perform after having scored First Class Honors with Distinction (90 percent and above) on their Royal Conservatory Music (RCM) Development Program Examinations in December 2017 and June 2018.

Becoming a confident performer at Open Mic

Lily Andrey - Open MicBy Lily Andrey
The first time I played in front of an audience was at a South Shore Conservatory (SSC) Open Mic. The only thing I remember was how terrified I was… and my big orange rain boots. My eight-year-old self had never done anything like this before and didn’t know what to expect. I did not want to speak and wouldn’t even sit with anyone because of how nervous I was. But then I played, and playing gave me this happiness I had never felt before. I realized I didn’t want that day to be the last time I performed.

I can thank Cliff Williams, my first guitar teacher, for pushing me to do Open Mic. I had only been playing for about one year, and performing at Open Mic was the last thing on my mind. He encouraged me to sing as well as play guitar. I had always enjoyed singing, but never thought of doing it in front of an audience. I finally agreed, and after experiencing the thrill of it, I am so glad I did.

I have always loved music, but performing it in front of others is very different from just listening to it. You can know how to play a song, but no one can play it the same as the original artist or the one covering it. Sometimes it sounds like a different song. You hear that at Open Mic. But the coolest part is, you hear it from people of all ages. Knowing you can go into these events and have a common interest with the people around you gives you a certain level of comfort. I have met so many people because of SSC, and sometimes I hate to think what my life would be like without it. One of the best parts of an Open Mic is watching others perform. I have been playing at them for six years and have seen so many amazing musicians. It is one of the least intimidating environments.

I never envisioned myself as a songwriter, but that changed when I was in eighth grade. And I can thank SSC for that. I started writing music all of the time and it is still crazy to me. I technically wrote my first song when I was 12, now two years ago, but that is one I would rather forget. Nevertheless, I love playing them at Open Mics first because everyone is so supportive.

The first time I ever saw someone my age in a band was at an Open Mic, and that eventually led me to my own. This event is such a great place to try out new material because you only have to play two songs. At other places, your set is around thirty minutes or more. If your set is mostly new, that is terrifying because so much could go wrong. And trust me, I am speaking from experience.

I always suggest that my friends, who are learning instruments, perform at an Open Mic because it is one of the best places to play in front of a supportive audience. I highly recommend going to an Open Mic because you can enjoy lots of different artists and art forms.  It changed my life, and I am sure I am not the only one.

South Shore Conservatory’s Open Mic nights are all-inclusive events, with a variety of performances, including poetry, rock bands, musicians experimenting on new instruments, solos/duos, a student MC, and more! It is free for SSC students to participate, and $10 for non-SSC performers. Admission to the event is free, and open to the public.

SSC’s next Open Mic is Friday, March 8, 7 pm at One Conservatory Drive in Hingham.  Learn more at, or find South Shore Conservatory on Facebook.

Singer/songwriter guitarist/vocalist Lily Andrey lives in Hingham, and is an eight grader at Hingham Middle School. 

Bringing together the young in age with young at heart

memory-cafe-intergenerational.jpgBy Kaitlyn Mazzilli & Kari O’Briant
We all thought Eddie was sleeping until Kari walked in with her newborn son, Jack. At the sight of the three-month-old baby, Eddie lit up with a bright smile and reached out to gently pat Jack’s head. He was eager to hold Jack, and did so with the help of his daughter Cathy, who beamed at the sight of joy and enthusiasm in her father’s eyes. Eddie and Cathy are regulars at the monthly Hingham Memory Café hosted by South Shore Conservatory. SSC Memory Cafés, one in Hingham and one in Duxbury, provide free arts-based activities led by trained creative arts therapists to support individuals living with memory issues and their caretakers.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are currently 5.7 million individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States alone.  They predict this number to rise to 14 million by 2050. Unbelievable!  With such staggering rates of loved ones facing Alzheimer’s disease (in addition to dementia, and other related cognitive disorders), we at South Shore Conservatory felt it vital to provide beneficial interventions to improve the quality of life for these populations.  We are overjoyed when we see connections being made both cognitively and socially at these cafés.

Beyond what we offer for stimulating activities during these 90-minute sessions, gerontology research suggests that there can be additional therapeutic benefits when individuals with dementia spend time with preschool-aged children. Blending generations provides meaningful opportunities for bonding and mentoring. With our Hingham Memory Café taking place at the same campus and during the same time period as our arts-integrated Preschool/PreK/Kindergarten programs, we have already had two unique privileges of witnessing the power of intergenerational arts-based experiences!

The first intergenerational experience was at November’s café, to celebrate Thanksgiving. Our PreK students joined our café guests for an enjoyable memory café filled with celebratory music and art activities. The café guests helped each child glue feathers on paper turkeys, and we talked about what each person felt grateful for. We all smiled when one little boy announced that he was thankful for “old people,” and everyone laughed when we turned the traditional Hokey Pokey dance into a silly version called the Turkey Pokey.

In December, we brought together multiple generations to sing holiday carols with Creative Arts Therapies Director Eve Montague, and welcomed the return of Kari and her newborn baby, Jack.  Watching the two generations enjoying spending meaningful time together touches the hearts of both participants and facilitators. Our joyful singing also caught the attention of our preschool teachers who made a special visit to say hello. These experiences foster a deeper sense of community between our cafés and school. The students who participated in the café are now more eager to greet our memory café guests and the preschool teachers are excited to plan for future collaborations!

This January, SSC celebrated its one year anniversary of hosting SSC Memory Café at the Hingham campus.  These cafés are made possible by the generous support of the Middleton Family Foundation. The Harry C. and Mary Elizabeth Grafton Memorial Fund funded a second monthly SSC Memory Café at our Ellison Center for the Arts in Duxbury, which will celebrate its one year anniversary in May. We are grateful for these generous funders and their support in making these events free to all!

The Hingham SSC Memory Café meets the third Thursday of each month from 12:30 – 2:30 pm. The Duxbury SSC Memory Café meets the first Tuesday of each month from 10:30 am – 12:30 pm. Participants are encouraged to attend both of these free cafés each month.  To register for these free events, please contact Eve Montague, Director of Creative Arts Therapies, at 781-934-2731, x20, or  More information at

Kaitlyn Mazzilli and Kari O’Briant are creative arts therapists and facilitators for SSC’s Memory Cafés. A Registered Dance/Movement Therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Kaitlyn is the Dance/Movement Therapy Program Coordinator, and teaches Adaptive Dance and Drama Classes at SSC. Kari is a Board Certified Music Therapist and Music Therapy Program Coordinator. She is the facilitator for the Hingham Memory Café, and directs SSC Community Voices Too!.

Early American Music – as it is meant to be experienced

Ben Swartz 2By Ben Swartz
On Sunday, February 24, I’ll be joining my South Shore Conservatory faculty colleagues to present an authentic program of American string quartet music, performing colonial-era and contemporary string quartets on period instruments in the idyllic setting of a former old New England church (now SSC’s Ellison Center for the Arts).

In anticipation – and, perhaps, in partial explanation – of this Conservatory Concert Series event, I’d like to place this program within its larger historical context, and explain what I hope will be a rich and powerful afternoon of music-making on the South Shore:

To engage with the spectrum of American music is to embrace an idiosyncratic, sometimes archaic worldview of inclusivity, pluralism, and diversity.  After all, a genre like jazz owes as much to African polyrhythmic structures as it does to ragtime, blues, and European military band music.  Appalachian music draws as freely from its origins in Irish and Celtic traditional music as it does with African-American blues, English ballads, and Anglican hymns.  To be fully American is first to recognize this multilingual heritage of cultural and stylistic antecedents, and subsequently to channel these myriad sources into a unique language of one’s own.

In particular, one of these singular strains of American music with a particular New England – and, for that matter, South Shore – connection is the Sacred Harp music of the Sacred Harp 1late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Sacred Harp singing is a tradition of sacred choral music originating in New England between 1770 and 1820, with roots stemming back to the four-part counterpoint of the Anglican Church.  The term “Sacred Harp” is synonymous with the human voice, and takes its name from a historically significant book published in 1844.  All Sacred Harp music is shape-note music, a didactic genre where syllables of a specific solfege alphabet were sung as a way to teach musically illiterate persons how to sing.  As participatory artistic practice with no requirement even of musical literacy, Sacred Harp was a potent democratizing force in congregational New England.  Massachusetts was an important center of Sacred Harp composition and publication, thanks in large part to composers such as the Bostonian tanner William Billings, Supply Belcher of Framingham, and Jacob French of Stoughton.

Let’s jump back into our time machine and fast-forward two hundred years, to Boston in September of America’s bicentennial year, 1976.  On September 29th, John Cage’s sprawling commission Apartment House 1776 was premiered in Boston, which included his 44 Harmonies, which were Cage’s re-imaginings of Sacred Harp hymns arranged for string quartet.  In his 44 Harmonies, Cage resets these old hymns in new ways by omitting or adding voices, interspersing silence, and applying 20th-century, anachronistic sonorities to this 18th-century repertoire.  Cage works within the original tunes, plays with them, distorts them, and what remains is a contemporaneously relevant conversation between the old and the new.

Our 2/24 program is my curation of these two bodies of work set in clear dialogue with one another.  I have arranged a judicious selection of these four-part songs for string Benjamin Franklinquartet, and divided them into four “hypersuites,” titled: South Shore, Redemption, Midwinter, and Rapture.  In South Shore, we present Sacred Harp tunes and Cage harmonies with familiar titles such as Hingham, Weymouth, Duxbury, Scituate, Cohasset, and Bridgewater.  In Redemption, Sacred Harp and Cage are set against the raucous and idiosyncratic string quartet written by Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Benjamin Franklin!), written for string quartet without the use of the left hand. In Midwinter, we explore themes of darkness, seasonal change, and death.  To close, Rapture celebrates the transcendent, the euphoric, and the ecstatic in music, book-ended by Supply Belcher’s gorgeous hymns titled “Rapture.”

Our string quartet, comprised of fellow SSC faculty members Emily Hale and Daphne Manavopoulos (violin), with guest artist Lauren Nelson (viola), and me on cello, will perform on period instruments in a historically-informed style.  During the American colonial era, string instruments would have been strung with gut strings (as opposed to steel strings today), which, along with lighter bows, thicker bridges, et al., gives these instruments a rough, earthy sound that is truly “of the flesh.”  To perform early music on early instruments in a resonant space, such as SSC’s Duxbury campus, is to hear this music afresh, perhaps as it was truly meant to be heard.

In rehearsal, our quartet has been astonished by the bewildering beauty of this music, and we eagerly look forward to presenting this program in the rich and resonant space in which it deserves to be heard.  We invite you to join us on February 24 to celebrate this facet of our collective cultural heritage.


South Shore Conservatory’s Conservatory Concert Series presents Early American Music on Sunday, February 24, 4 pm at 64 St. George Street in Duxbury.  Tickets, at $5 per person, may be purchased at or at the door.  Students are admitted free.

Cellist Ben Swartz has been a member of South Shore Conservatory’s string department since 2017.

Lessons from Lessons

Daphne teachingBy Su D’Ambrosio
“I quit!” I remember this moment clearly. I was trying to master the new low notes on my clarinet, and my short fingers were not quite able to cover the holes. The sounds I produced were horrifying squeaks and squawks. I took the clarinet apart, threw it piece by piece onto my bed and decided that this was the end of my playing career. I was eight years old at the time and had been playing clarinet for a grand total of three months.  I marched into my teacher’s office and told her the bad news. While expressing her disappointment, she reminded me of the great progress I was making, promising me a spot in the band if I stuck with it. The fact that this adult believed in me, and was unwilling to give up on me, literally changed my life. I continued with my lessons, joined the band, became one of the top musicians in my school, and ultimately pursued a career in music. Along my music journey, there were always teachers encouraging me to stay the course.

Learning to play an instrument is a curious mix of joy, accomplishment, hard work and frustration. It requires discipline, practice, monetary investment, perseverance, and dedication. Why do young people commit to all of this if they aren’t intending to become professional musicians? Why are parents willing to invest so much time and money and endure the inevitable moments of whining and complaining? To find the answer, simply observe a lesson!

During their lesson, students receive the undivided attention of their teacher. There are no distractions, no other students. That dynamic allows for a deep and lasting relationship, one that is often the first meaningful relationship with an adult other than the student’s parents.  The step-by-step nature of learning an instrument lends itself to celebrating little victories along the way. There is a constant sense of intrinsic motivation. The reward is the actual learning itself as the student masters a new skill or song. There is also an immediate emotional connection to this experience. Creating and sharing music results in joy! Even in a lesson where a student is struggling to master a new skill, the teacher incorporates an element of success though revisiting a favorite song or playing a duet with the student. The focus is both on what the student can do and what they are striving to accomplish.

Students who learn to play an instrument also learn important life skills of discipline, time management, responsibility and self-confidence. These students are often successful in many areas beyond the music lesson and appreciate what they learned through music throughout their adult lives.

As I sit in my office at South Shore Conservatory (SSC), I am surrounded by the sound of music lessons in the rooms around me. Guitar, violin, viola, piano, trumpet and voice all blend together in an interesting mix of classical and contemporary melodies. There are beginners playing simple tunes and learning new notes each day, and advanced students preparing for auditions and competitions. Some days are more harmonious than others, but they all make me hopeful for the future, as I hear each musician making progress each week, and the encouraging words of our teachers who believe in them.

Learn more about SSC’s First Lesson Free promotion at call 781-749-7565, x10, or find South Shore Conservatory on Facebook.

Su D’Ambrosio is Director of Programs and Curriculum for South Shore Conservatory.  She lives in Plymouth with her daughters Maria and Rosa, and her dog Bernie who learned the important life lessons of “sit”, “stay” and “drop it” from his very patient teacher, Lisa.