SSC President Kathy Czerny received a standing ovation from faculty and staff for her keynote message at last week’s All School Meeting in the Carr Amphitheater.
Three years ago, I asked everyone at the All School Meeting this question.
Why are you here?
Not physically sitting here in this amphitheater, but why are you at SSC? And more importantly why are you a musician, a dancer, an actor, a teacher? Why do you work for an arts non-profit?
Each of us has a story to tell, our own unique answer to why we chose the arts, why it is our passion, and why it is our job.
Like many of you my journey to SSC started when I was a child. I had a wonderful grandmother who was an incredible pianist and an opera singer. When she was 9 years old she played the organ at the funeral of dozens of men who died in one of America’s largest coal mining disasters. As a teenager she played the piano for the silent pictures. As a wife and mother, music was at the center of her home with her three children harmonizing as they washed dishes, my grandfather tap-dancing to her accompaniment and she and my aunt Pauline holding the leads in the local production of Carmen.
When grandchildren came on the scene, she caught us up in her love of music. As toddlers she had us stand up straight, face the imaginary audience in front of the piano and sing our nursery rhymes, folk songs and the pop tunes of the day with confidence and gusto. She took pride in our accomplishments and was always our greatest cheerleader and champion. When I was 2, my grandmother wrote a little song for me to sing for my mother’s sorority fundraiser – it went something like this – “ My mommy belongs to ADPi and when I grow up so will I. Instead of singing lullabies, mommy sings of ADPi” and so began my first experience of mixing music and fund raising!” Little did she know how much a part of my life “twinkles” would become. When I turned 5 she became my first piano teacher. Teaching me how to find middle C and read treble clef in a hit song of the day “Melody of Love.” She loved Chopin and Elvis, Schumann and Ellington. Her taste in music was eclectic and she loved sharing it all with us.
These formative years were critical to establishing my course in life. Music was at the center of my world from then on – from accompanying the school orchestra to singing in choruses and quartets, eventually trading piano accompaniment for voice lessons and discovering how much I loved being a singer.
So in many ways, I am here at SSC because of my grandmother. Because she was an inspiring teacher and mentor.
I am sure that each of us has our own narrative. The one – or the many – people who inspired us – who Taught us! Who shared their own love of the arts. And ultimately that is what it is about – relationships. Someone inspired us, opened a door, invited us in, saw a spark in us and nurtured it.
When I first drove up this driveway 14 years ago. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this spot. Having come from a school that shared space with inner city schools and suburban churches walking through the doors of the Hingham Campus was almost overwhelming. Being in such an incredible space that was dedicated to community arts education was phenomenal.
But ultimately, I didn’t choose to come to SSC because of beautiful buildings, I came because of the people. An exceptional and invested faculty with members who had been here for decades, an incredible board of trustees who gave freely of their time, talent and treasure in support of a mission they believed in and staff members who worked tirelessly for a small community music school because they recognized the necessity of having a resource like SSC on the South Shore.
This coming week, first thing in the morning, our pre-schoolers and kindergartners will arrive, accompanied by their proud parents, to begin their earliest education under our tutelage. Parents who have chosen an arts based curriculum for their children and who have chosen us because of our exceptional teachers. In the afternoon, hundreds of students at both campuses will walk through the doors grab their Welcome Packets and be ushered to their classrooms to begin or continue their creative journey. By next Saturday, nearly 3,000 students of all ages and abilities will have entered your classrooms and studios looking to you for guidance, inspiration and education. And by the end of the month we will have engaged more nearly 5,000 people through lessons and classes, in orchestras, choruses and dance studios, in Brockton Kindergartens, in memory care facilities, councils on aging and senior centers across the South Shore. But why?
You were once one of these students, walking in for your first bass lesson or getting on stage to belt out “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” or eagerly trying on your first pair of pointe shoes. Someone, somewhere helped you make that all important connection that making art – creating something of beauty, something that touched you deeply, something that connected you to someone else and to the world at large was the most important thing you could do. It was all you wanted to do!
So what’s your story? Why are you here?
Like you, SSC is writing its story and you are all part of the storyline. As we begin our 50th year, celebrate where we started, what we have accomplished and anticipate where we are headed, it is good to remember our beginning. Most of you know our creation story but it is always worth repeating. 50 years ago a handful of enthusiastic parents, led by Jane Carr, established South Shore Conservatory of Music in the Parish House of Old Ship Church here in Hingham. They believed that excellent music education wasn’t a nice to have, it was a necessity. They understood that part of being a fully developed person involved having hands-on, personal experience creating music and experiencing the arts firsthand. There were fine music programs in the public schools, but these parents also understood that the opportunity to study one-on-one with a masterful teacher, is ultimately so much more than a music lesson – it’s a life lesson. So they hired Jim Simpson, a 28 year old, idealistic trumpet player who in turn hired a few exceptional teachers, and began to write the story. In the ensuing 35 years, South Shore Conservatory continued to build upon its mission to provide access to quality education in the arts. Establishing two beautiful locations and adding fabulous programs like Summer Wind Ensemble, ballet and an award winning pre-school and Kindergarten– all of which continue today.
Following a dynamic founder, I was fortunate to be selected as the second President of South Shore Conservatory in 2006. Following a founder is both daunting and an incredible opportunity. In any organization there can only be one founder. So the big question was what should the SSC of the future look like?
What was our collective vision? What were our values?
It has become fairly non-pc to talk about “values.” But for those of us who have chosen the arts as our life work – it is all about values.
When you walk through the doors of both campuses you notice the brightly colored flags hanging from the balconies emblazoned with the words – respect, excellence and initiative. These core values were established by faculty and staff 14 years ago as guiding principles. A road map for how we wanted SSC to operate. Both as a place of business – for this is your business and your workplace -n and as colleagues, teachers and staff members. It is these three core values and our mission that have shaped the work we have done at our campuses and within the community over the past 14 years.
When I look back at all we have accomplished in this time it is remarkable. SSC is now the largest community school for the arts in New England. Serving people of all ages, abilities and circumstance throughout our region. Truly providing access to everything the arts have to offer.
Access – The key word in our mission statement – past and present. For those of you who don’t have it committed to memory here it is – SSC’s purpose is to provide access to exceptional arts education and performance for the South Shore community, fostering creativity, artistic growth, and well-being for individuals of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.
Access has many meanings in our world – “easy access” means there is a gas station right off the highway. Access means that your facilities and programs can be easily navigated by those with physical handicaps. Access means that you can afford it, access means that you can get to it. In our case “it” is music and the arts.
For the first 35 years, access was all about providing excellent music instruction on the South Shore. No need to travel to Boston to find the best teachers – they were right here in our backyard.
Over the past 14 years we have broadened our definition of access; it’s not just where we serve, but who we serve and how we serve. We have increased the number of people, ranging in ages from infancy to centenarians, from 2,500 students in 2006 to more than 4,500 today. We not only continue to provide excellent instruction in our pre-school and Kindergarten, our private lessons, early childhood classes, rock bands, ballet classes, orchestras, drama classes and summer camps, we now reach hundreds of people through Creative Arts Therapies programs, community partnerships and faculty concerts.
As a core value, Excellence is what we strive for in all the work we do – within our four walls or outside in the community. Excellence is a necessity in order to deliver exceptional experiences for our families, students, audience members and clients.
Excellence goes hand in hand with Respect. Respect was the number one core value selected by faculty and staff fourteen years ago. Showing respect to everyone who enters into our community – whether faculty, staff, donor, student, parent, or concert goer – sets us apart. It makes SSC a safe and supportive place to work, teach and learn.
Our third core value is Initiative – this one holds a special place in my heart because I truly believe that this is what moves society and therefore – SSC – forward. When we look at what we have accomplished over the past 14 years those accomplishments lie with you – with your ideas, your initiative, your willingness to embrace change and bring innovation and relevancy to SSC.
Here are many of the things that we have added over the past 14 years: It is a long list so hold on….
- South Shore Youth Orchestra and Chorus
- Music Together
- Our own ballet and dance program – now including Hip Hop for Boys
- Voice class
- Golden Voices
- Music Mind Games
- Community Voices and Community Voices Too
- The Jazz Rock Pop Department
- Rock Bands
- Student Leadership Council
- American Song Book
- Saturday Stage Club
- Shake Your Soul
- Shed Your Skin
- Free faculty concert series
- Coffee Break Concert Series
- Chase Away the Winter Blues
- Duxbury Music Festival
- With A little help from my friends
- Hingham Jazz Festival
- JRP Series
- Monster Jam
- Open Mics
- Redeye Readers and Discovery readers
- Old Colony Y partnerships
- Memory Cafes
- Adult Learning at all senior centers on the South Shore and 3 ukulele bands!
- Piano Fundamentals
- Yoga for the Special Child
- Parkinson’s Chorus
- Partnerships with: Libraries, schools, memory care facilities, Derby Street, Day cares, social service agencies, community centers, rec departments, independent living communities and more.
Last year we ran our first program in partnership with the Y – the Parkinson’s Chorus. This year, we will be offering all the arts programming at their Laura’s Center for the Arts. This is a big step into the Hanover Community where we will eventually open the Glick Family Center for Creative Arts Therapies and our third campus.
This brings us full circle to everything SSC’s definition of access is about – making hands-on excellent, music and arts education and experiences available to everyone on the South Shore regardless of age, ability or circumstance.
These programs, partnerships, concerts and events have happened because of you. Because of us.
When I look back on all we have accomplished, I am humbled by your commitment to SSC and the excellence of the work that happens each and every day.
I truly believe that working in the arts is a calling. In so many ways similar to callings to the ministry or medicine – and yes, we do actively proselytize and seek to convert….. and most certainly we heal. And… I see willing sacrifice for your calling – long hours of practice, interminable hours on the road, a myriad of gigs, contacts and contracts, challenging clients, challenging parents and challenging students. But we do it for a reason.
We know, with every fiber of our being, that the arts are a necessity. They are not a luxury, or mere enrichment programs that we fund from remnants of our budgets, they are not simple amusements. Music and the arts are a basic need of human survival, a way to make sense of our lives, express feelings when we have no words, and to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.
This is our job. To convey the power of our art to those who walk through our doors. Thank you so much for your support of me over the past 14 years, for embracing change, giving wonderful advice, disrupting the status quo, being wonderful colleagues and making this the best job anyone could have. I am looking forward to this year of working together to set SSC up for success and a wonderful transition. The year ahead promises to be an amazing one, filled with beloved SSC traditions and new and exciting endeavors. Let’s launch the next 50 fabulous years!