Giving thanks for the blessing of Michael Puzo

 

Michael and Eileen Puzo

Michael Puzo and his daughter Eileen Puzo

By Elaine Sorrentino
How fitting is it that South Shore Conservatory’s Board of Trustees chose November, the month of giving thanks, to pay tribute to Michael Puzo, and thank him as he steps down from SSC’s Board, taking on a new role of Trustee Emeritus, after 30 years of dedication and unwavering commitment to the Conservatory’s work in making music, changing lives, and building community through the arts?

In the resolution the Board presented at SSC’s Annual Meeting on November 12, they stated “There simply are not enough resolutions the Board could adopt to begin to capture all that Mike and his family have given to SSC, with their hearts, their time, their wallets and their professional and musical talents.  Let it suffice then to say this:  SSC would not be where it is today without his expertise in almost every field of this organization’s endeavor.”

It was very telling that during his tenure with SSC, Mike served twice as Board Chair, and was asked both times to serve extended terms, due to his deep involvement in and his critical importance to matters at hand at the time.  One such matter was the building of SSC’s Ellison Center for the Arts in Duxbury, a project he led tirelessly for over four years.  With his expert guidance, the Board and the community overcame many obstacles laid before them, and raised funds needed to build the Ellison Center, which opened its doors in 1996, providing a permanent and beautiful home for SSC in Duxbury.

South Shore Conservatory has benefited financially, legally and musically, from Mike’s close involvement, counsel, and support of each fundraising initiative we have launched over the years, including the Encore Society, from his hospitality and generous spirit in co-hosting Chase Away the Winter Blues galas, hosting dinners, to engaging his law firm to sponsor Evening Under the Stars (EUS) receptions.  We know we are not alone; many non-profits, as well as the town of Hingham, have benefited from his legal expertise and wise counsel.

Our gratitude even extends to his deep sonorous voice, which will always be remembered when we recall his dazzling performance as a narrator at the EUS performance of Carmen in 2007, as well as his serenades at the Chase Away the Winter Blues piano bar.

In addition, the Board thanked Mike for the incredible amount of time he has given to SSC, his wise advice, and his attention to detail and the fiduciary duties of the Board; his willingness to take on any project, large or small; his thoughtful and probing questions.  They will miss his history lessons and the laughter he regularly brought into the board room with his sports analogies and idioms.

We are all very grateful to Michael Puzo for his vision and wisdom, the many relationships and communities he nurtured, and his deep loyalty and unwavering commitment to achieving excellence.  Without his counsel, South Shore Conservatory might look very different than it does today.   We thank him for all he has given our beloved community school for the arts, and wish him the best going forward.

Elaine Sorrentino is South Shore Conservatory’s Communications Director.

South Shore Conservatory’s continued success gives former employee great satisfaction

PianoandKids90sThe following letter to the editor appeared in last week’s Hingham Journal, in response to SSC President Kathy Czerny’s Conservatory Notes article about South Shore Conservatory’s upcoming 50th anniversary. 

Thank you to Alice Duffy for sharing her support of SSC, its  faculty, staff, and programs!

To the editor:

I read with great interest the article by Ms. Kathy Czerny about the 50th anniversary of the South Short Conservatory. It is truly a great resource for Hingham and all of the South Shore.

I had the good fortune to be employed there as a member of the office staff from 1982 to 1986. At that time, Mr. James Simpson was the director, a position he held for 35 years. It was a happy place. Music and children and talented, dedicated teachers and staff made a great partnership. To see its continuing growth and development gives me great satisfaction.

May it continue to thrive.

Alice Duffy
Hingham

Fifty years later: Still making music, changing lives

Kathy photo May 2013 cropped

By Kathy Czerny
Nearly 50 years ago, when a troupe of local parents planted the seeds for what is now South Shore Conservatory (SSC), their goal was to make sure their children would grow up with music in their lives. They imagined their children taking music lessons and participating in wind ensembles, with the end goal of their becoming well-rounded adults. I wonder if these founding members ever envisioned the bountiful harvest of programs their investment and efforts would yield over time.

South Shore Conservatory original pen and inkOur founders knew this new community school for the arts would guarantee music lessons and ensemble opportunities to children in their communities, but did they know it would become the lifeline for young children with developmental delays who need early intervention?  A voice for timid preschoolers searching for a way to express themselves? A safe outlet for teen rockers looking a community of other like-minded musicians? A chorus for adults who learn differently?  A place for those with memory issues to gather safely with their caregiver for fun activities?  Probably not.  I’m guessing that none of these benefits even came to mind 50 years ago. But this is where we are today, and we are very proud of the resource we have become on the South Shore.

In addition to expanding program offerings, our reach has extended far beyond Hingham and Cohasset, the two initial communities served by the New England Conservatory satellite that eventually became SSC.  When the fuel embargo drove gas prices up, and traveling from Duxbury to Hingham for lessons became cost prohibitive, the Conservatory was more than happy to open up a satellite location to continue teaching Duxbury children.  In 1996, SSC secured a permanent Duxbury home at 64 St. George Street, our second campus, still thriving today.  Since then, our partnership programs reach as far as Cape Cod, while our summer programs draw students from as far as Bellingham.

When I arrived at SSC 14 years ago, and took over as SSC president, the bulk of our programming was private instruction.  This very important student-mentor relationship, which happens in a community music school, or in any other music lesson, was what kept SSC afloat since its inception.  Over the last decade, we’ve added group programs, such as orchestra, chorus, open mic, and rock band, to support what students learn in their lessons, and to create community through the arts.

From almost the very start, we’ve had a robust preschool and kindergarten program, but we needed to add more early childhood programs, such as Music Together®, to complete our program “continuum,” which provides a pathway for children to remain active in the arts throughout their life. Right now we have students ranging from zero in Music Together, to 102 in our SSC Memory Café program.   That’s something to celebrate!

As we approach our 50th anniversary, which starts in January, and reflect back, we have good reason to be proud about how far we’ve come, and how many lives we’ve changed through music and the arts.  This transformative power, that engages every one, touches our hearts, and enriches our lives, will always be our purpose. New programs and new buildings are the least important parts. What’s really important is that our commitment to making music and changing lives, and having SSC firmly ensconced in its community to make these things happen, is what the future is all about.

South Shore Conservatory kicks off its year-long celebration in 2020, with its annual Chase Away the Winter Blues gala on Saturday, January 25.  Learn more at sscmusic.org.

A Vision for Social Philanthropy

FCAlogoBy Eve Grace Penoyer
There are a number of reasons a person might choose the path of philanthropy:  to enjoy tax benefits, to create personal fame, to satisfy a psychological need for redemption, to attempt to practice honest altruism, to justify an obsession, to repay a social debt, to meet a religious expectation, to create a legacy through which to be remembered.

Over the years, depending on the perspective of those inquiring, I have been assumed to act from one or more of these motivations.  Whenever I have tried to explain my simple but sincere desire to create a better world, I have often been either ridiculed as a naïve dreamer or lauded as a paragon of virtue, when I am neither.  Instead, I am a realist who has decided, for the most practical of reasons, to apply the lessons of personal experience toward solving our world’s most fundamental or fascinating problems.  Be it famine, disease, endless civil and international conflict, climate change, or overpopulation, sub-atomic or interstellar exploration or time travel, I do believe solutions can be found.  I do not have the answers to any of those questions, but I feel very confident of where we can find them.

“Phil” (love) + “anthropy” (people) is a choice, and in my view the most logical choice for those with both the vision and the means, a necessary investment in our future if we are to survive and thrive as a species.  Darwin opened our eyes to the ways that the strongest, most agile, most advantageously colored, etc., of a species survive to reproduce in the animal world, leading to the evolution of healthier and more stable populations.  In nature, all individuals start out with small differences but a more-or-less clean slate.  While a nest full of little birds might hatch in a more or less advantageous location, their mother had a lot of freedom to choose the best place she could find at the time she built it; when they fledge, these creatures are likewise free to fly as far as they are able to find somewhere better if need be.  Some little birds don’t make it, of course—we often say “nature is cruel”.  Human society is not so simple, but it can be just as cruel, even more so when prejudices, income disparity, substance abuse and domestic violence are factored into the mix.  In the face of such  harsh realities, which affect no one more deeply or permanently than children, we each have a choice—to just shrug our shoulders with indifference to the struggles of some and to simply let them fail or, if we are willing to live our professed “love for humanity” purposefully, to help them to fly further.

Some give food, others clothing, shelter, medicine—and without a doubt these forms of giving enable many to survive.  But for humans, mere survival is not nearly enough.  We must also satisfy our fundamental emotional needs and our intellectual curiosity to truly feel our lives are worth living.  We require a means to develop self-expression, self-awareness and self-worth, and it is only when these needs are fulfilled that we can maturely seek answers to “How?” and “Why?”  In order to grow beyond our original circumstances, we must be ready for answers that we would never have otherwise expected.

My own evolution as a philanthropist compelled me to ask myself:  How can I best help others, especially those in need, to thrive?  To become the best versions of themselves?  And thereafter, to evolve even further?   What would both permit and inspire the objects of philanthropy to contribute back into society far more than they might receive from me?  While pure charity often fulfills immediate survival needs, it is usually expended and used up for that purpose.  I believe the more important role of social philanthropy is to inspire and create growth in the long term, not merely at the individual level but in the broader community, national and international sense—in other words, with the right approach, funds dedicated to philanthropic giving need not be “used up” at all but instead yield substantial long-term social dividends.

Mine is not a Gates-level private foundation—far from it.  When I set out to express my vision to create a continuously growing form of social good, I first had to answer for myself the fundamental question of what group, what field, what area I should serve with my limited time and limited funds.  If you have only one arrow in your quiver, determining the most important target to aim for becomes of vital concern.  The answer to this question was, quite honestly, not at all clear to me at first, so I embarked on a journey of self-discovery.

In The Foundation for Creative Achievement’s (FCA) early years, I experimented with supporting medical research, environmental issues, general education, and the arts—all worthy fields to be sure.  Yet it eventually became apparent to me that I was making little real progress in any of those fields and it seemed clear to me that the problem was not a matter of funding or time, but the fundamentals of how most questions were being approached.  I observed a disappointing lack of imagination in even highly intelligent, well-educated and well-meaning professionals.  I concluded that I needed to address a more fundamental social issue to even begin to meet my goal.

There is obviously no way I can solve even one major problems of this world myself, nor can I hope to harness all the intellect on the planet to do so.  Big ideas and limited means can lead to a lot of frustration.  But as an investment professional, I have always been inspired by Ben Franklin’s centuries-long demonstration of the power of compound interest:  given enough time, $100 can grow to become many millions.  I soon realized that I really did not view philanthropy as an expenditure but rather saw my role as an investor in society, with the expectation of a return on that investment in the form of social change, even if that change came slowly and incrementally.  My background in both psychology and finance, coupled with my lifelong passion for the arts, soon led me to the decision to invest in building young minds, specifically in the opening of young minds to envision new possibilities through the arts.

In reaching that conclusion, I thought a lot about what it means to be “the fittest” of our species, especially in an age where we have technology available to do so much for us—and what the next stage in human evolution could be.  For me the answer is, unequivocally, to develop our inherent ability to imagine what can be.  For it is only by pushing our minds to attain new ways of envisioning those things presently-impossible, that we can ever hope to make progress in achieving them.  Long before we developed cellphones, tablets and talking computers, one of my personal heroes, Gene Roddenberry, first imagined them—would we have them now, I wonder, had he not then imagined such a future?  We can all rattle off long lists of so-called geniuses who have changed the world, and most of us feel grateful for their achievements, but does that absolve the rest of us of a duty to at least aspire to think beyond our daily routines?

Personally, I have a lot of physical limitations—I live with a periodically debilitating genetic disorder—and I grew up in seriously disadvantaged economic, social and psychological conditions.  By Darwin’s standards, there’s no question I really should not have survived at all, let alone thrived and evolved.  But as a child I was greatly inspired—first by literature and later by music, art, film, theatre and dance, and by the unlimited connections I saw among them—not only to imagine, but to believe in, the seemingly impossible, to find the inner strength to overcome personal obstacles, and to achieve far more than I might ever have hoped for otherwise.  I did not have access to the lessons or classes in the arts which I craved—I made do with what little was available through public school, and today there is even less available to disadvantaged children.  The arts became my hope and my salvation, not because I became a professional singer, dancer, actor or writer, but because they provided the platform to make me the creative, confident and capable woman I am today.  Thus, after considerable self-reflection, I decided with certainty and passion to invest in maximizing opportunities to find the same inspiration and growth I have through involvement in the arts to disadvantaged children who exhibit a unique spark of greater potential.

Community partners, such as South Shore Conservatory with regard to music, have been invaluable in helping to identify children in our local communities who are worthy of such a serious investment.  I am certain there are many more of them out there, and it is my dearest wish and hope to find and help more of them reach for the stars.  Present funding is limited but I am continually working to grow FCA’s platform and endowment.  And I certainly believe in the ripple effect.

From FCA’s young scholarship and grant students, I ask only one thing—that someday, when they are able, they ‘pay it forward’ to other youngsters like them.  I impress upon them that what they receive is not “charity” but an investment in their futures.  FCA today is a small private foundation but in time it is my hope that it will develop into a movement that will spread inspiration through the arts among young people to imagine and to create the world we all deserve.  These are remarkably talented children who lacked only opportunity, and I believe they will eventually make a real difference in the world, not necessarily as musicians, actors, artists, writers or dancers, but in any field they decide to pursue.  FCA offers them access to arts environments where they can learn to become imaginative people, inspired citizens and creative leaders.  Their achievements in the arts will no doubt be significant, but I am far more interested in what the arts can do for them than what they can do for the arts.  When I see their young imaginations take flight in unexpected directions and witness their remarkable strides in focus, self-confidence, expressiveness, and community spirit, I know my social philanthropy is on the right track.  It is an absolute joy to watch them learn to overcome challenges as they repeatedly rise above expectations, learning the most important lesson the arts can teach:  that imagination has no limits and as long as they develop trust in theirs, neither will they.

Until I chose this path of social philanthropy, I was frankly quite cynical about the future of our species.  Together with that pessimism came a frustrating feeling of helplessness in the face of the overwhelming problems of our world.  I am just one person–what can one person do?  Feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure freeze too many of us into a state of inaction.  Instead, I encourage you to ask yourselves:  “What would I do if I knew I would not fail?”  When I asked myself that question, this was my answer.  While I cannot personally solve the many problems of the world, I know we will only find those solutions by imagining our way to them.  What can I do?  I can certainly help to develop and inspire some of the young minds that can someday start to solve those problems.  This is how I can make the greatest contribution possible, leveraging my skills, time and means to multiply and maximize their impact.  Perhaps to some this will seem nothing more than a social experiment, but for me it is a very long-term and vital investment in our future as a species and a mission to which I have dedicated the rest of my life.

Learn more about South Shore Conservatory named scholarships at https://sscmusic.org/named-scholarships/.

Ms. Penoyer is the Founder and Trustee of The Foundation for Creative Achievement, a 501(c)(3) organization that generously underwrites full-tuition assistance for South Shore Conservatory piano, strings, and voice students based on need, aptitude and commitment.  She may be reached directly at eve.fca@aol.com.

Yoga: Not just exercise and pretzel twisting

Kids in Yoga 2019
By Meg Durkin
All I ever learned, I learned in yoga class.  This is a phrase I hope children who have attended yoga classes with Miss Meg at SSC will say someday. Practicing yoga is a life skill for children.  You might wonder “yoga for children,” how do they have the attention span for that?  Let me explain.

In our modern US, culture most people think of yoga and picture a thin, fit, white female twisting her body in an unnatural position.   Or yoga is exercise.  Yoga is much bigger than exercise and pretzel twisting.  I like to say yoga with the big “Y.”  There are eight limbs of yoga, and physical postures is only one of them. Yoga is a preventative physical and mental healthcare system.   The word yoga comes from the language of Sanskrit and means to “yoke” or “bring together.”  A classical definition of yoga is “to bring together the body, mind and spirit.”  To make this definition more understandable, I like to tell children that we are bringing together the body, breath and brain.  In order to do this in a yoga class, we focus on breathing, moving, and resting, while remembering the foundation of our yoga philosophy.

Breath awareness and exercises are essential while practicing yoga.  Teaching children to consciously breath can change their mood, feelings, and nervous system.  Toddlers can begin breath awareness by blowing objects such as pinwheels.  Preschool and kindergarten children can engage in child-friendly breath exercises such as Bumblebee breathing or Snake breathing.  These breaths help children to center and calm down.  This self-regulation skill is so needed in our fast-paced society.

Movement is key for gross and fine motor development with children.  Yoga postures help with physical elements, such as strengthening muscles, stretching muscles and balance.  Some physical aspects of yoga engage the vagus nerve, which in turn stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest component), thus helping children reduce stress.  Movement also facilitates skills such as proprioception, motor planning and body awareness.  It is key that movement be developmentally appropriate, so movement and yoga postures are taught through play, songs and stories.

Children need time for relaxing.  Often time children tell me their favorite time in yoga is the resting time when they are quietly laying on their backs listening to peaceful music and finding a little bit of calm within.  For toddlers this might only be for ten seconds, or be with their caregiver lying with them on a yoga mat.  For preschool and kindergarten children, this might be listening to a guided visualization about relaxing their body, or listening to guided imagery to engage their imagination.  The more self-regulation and anxiety issues children have, the more this resting time becomes a necessary life skill.  Resting is a way of practicing meditation or mindfulness for young children.

Yoga philosophy is a key component of my kid’s yoga classes too. This does not always mean that the lesson contains a theme about the philosophy.  It might just be that, as the teacher, my body and mind are modeling the philosophy.  In yoga philosophy yamas and niyamas are moral and ethical values to live by.  The yamas are practice peace, be honest, be generous to ourselves and others, keep things in balance, and let it go. The niyamas are be clean, be content, work hard, take time for reflection with alone time, and know that there are bigger forces out there beyond ourselves.  Practicing these life skills build character.

When breathing, moving, resting, and yoga philosophy are combined into a yoga class for children, this combination builds resiliency and lifelong tools for self-management and self-awareness which are part of social emotional learning as well. Besides yoga with children is joyful and creative!

South Shore Conservatory’s next session of Yoga for Toddlers with Meg Durkin starts Tuesday, November 26. Learn more at https://sscmusic.org/yoga-classes/, or call 781-749-7565 x10 to register.

Hingham yoga instructor Meg Durkin, also known as “Miss Meg,” is the founder of Mindfulness with Meg, and has been teaching yoga at South Shore Conservatory since 2009. 

South Shore Conservatory Open Mics

Aidan Murphy cropped for blogBy Aidan Murphy
I remember when I was around ten or eleven years old, my guitar teacher told me about an Open Mic that was happening at South Shore Conservatory (SSC). I had never really thought to share my guitar-playing in a setting like that, even though my parents had signed me up for SSC’s Performathon multiple times. At first, I was anxious and didn’t know what to expect from it. After the performance, however, I felt proud of myself, and it helped me take one of my first steps towards playing out with a band.

I had been playing guitar for four or five years at that point, but it had mostly been my own personal journey; playing for myself and my family. I can remember many times when my guitar teachers would tell me about an Open Mic, and even though the idea was intriguing, I never truly considered the idea.  I worried that my playing might not be good enough for that type of stage, but I was wrong.

Finally, one year my parents convinced me to go ahead and experience what it’s like to perform at one. I didn’t know what to think; would I be able to do it? Was I good enough for people to like my performance? I had been playing for years, and had a plethora of songs I could play, so I worked with my teacher to decide on what song I should perform. We decided on a guitar-based variation of “The Phoenix” by Fall Out Boy, and used the time in our practices for a couple of weeks to get the song just right. When the time came, I was ready.

Despite my nerves, I got up on stage and played at that Open Mic.  It was an amazing experience! Even though I wasn’t perfect, the audience received me well. I was proud of myself for rising to the occasion and having the confidence to perform.  After that, I couldn’t resist signing up for more and more SSC Open Mics. I begged my parents to sign me up for every one I could possibly attend, and although some were better than others, something about sharing my music with people who share my interests really struck a chord with me. It also helped that all of the audience members are respectful, supportive, and attentive for each and every performer.

Out of this experience, I gained the confidence to step further outside my comfort zone, and now not only play guitar, but am also lead vocalist for SSC’s JRP band Square One. If not for Open Mic, I may not have taken this bold step, and I’ve had a ton of fun because of it! Our band has played a number of gigs and performances since we created it around the start of 2019, including gigs at the C Note and Paragon Boardwalk in Hull, as well as the Battle of the Bands at Hanover Day.

More recently, I’ve enjoyed attending Open Mic, rather than performing in them, but find I enjoy them as much. We’ve created a supportive community of musicians and music enthusiasts. It’s inspiring to see so many people from different backgrounds and instruments performing and sharing their love for music with each other. They provide a useful space for students to realize their love for performing and crowd-pleasing, while also forming an environment to meet new people and make new friends.

South Shore Conservatory’s next Open Mic is Friday, November 15, from 7-9 pm, One Conservatory Drive in Hingham. SSC student play for free.  Non-SSC students are welcome to play for a $10 cover charge. Audience admission is free. Sound system, keyboard, drums, accompanist (keys or guitar) provided.  To reserve a spot, call 781-749-7565 x10.  Learn more at https://sscmusic.org/open-mic-night/.

Aidan Murphy is a junior at Hingham High School. At 17 years old, he takes lessons for guitar and drums at South Shore Conservatory, and is the guitarist and lead singer for JRP band Square One. You can find them on Instagram (@thebandsquareone).

Making life-changing connections through music

The SprintsBy Liz Tolini
Two years ago my teenage daughter Marissa, who had been taking voice lessons from a lovely, local voice teacher, found she wasn’t progressing, and desperately wished to take her singing voice to the next level.  This is when we discovered South Shore Conservatory (SSC).  She began studying fall of 2017, and was only at SSC for a few months when she participated in her first voice recital. Marissa was the last to perform that night, and we were bowled over by her performance.  Clearly, her SSC voice instructor, Carey, had made astonishing progress, bringing her to the next level. We had made the right decision.

Placing third in the musical theater division of SSC’s voice competition the following spring did wonders to bolster Marissa’s confidence. She progressed so well vocally, that she landed the role of Hodel in Quincy High’s spring 2019 production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” and performed in “A Chorus Line” at The Company Theater in Norwell. These were big opportunities that, without Carey’s help, may have passed her by.  She volunteered with SSC’s drama camp this summer, and is exploring joining the SSC Student Leadership Team, because there she can connect with more teens who have the same love of music and theater.

But she’s not the only one of my children to be bitten by the SSC bug. My son, Kyle, 13, plays drums, piano, sax, and guitar, and aspires to be a music producer someday. Learning as many instruments as he can has been all self-motivated.  Kyle’s first SSC experience was playing his sax with Middle School Monster Jam, and he loved it! Later, after he saw a flyer about Rock Band, he couldn’t wait to start playing.  It took a while for the right combination of middle school musicians to come together and form a band, but they hit it off immediately. His band, The Sprints, was originally comprised of Kyle on drums, Kyle S. on lead guitar and Matt B. on guitar and vocals. After seeing The Sprints perform at our neighborhood Porchfest Quincy this summer, Maggie D. joined the band as a bassist. So, because of an outside “gig,” SSC acquired a new student.

I find it amazing that three 13- and 14-year-old boys (and now 14-year-old girl) love 90’s alternative music, the genre they play. They pick up music very quickly, so their Jazz/Rock/Pop teacher Erik Caldarone can build up their repertoire, while helping them collaborate with their original music.  Since they formed in 2018, The Sprints have gigged out quite a lot.  In fact, they were just hired for their first paying gig – the 2020 Squantum Fourth of July Parade!

What I love about Kyle being in a band is that he loves Wednesdays because he can’t wait to come to rock band in the afternoon.  He has made some fantastic friends, and he loves his music so much that it makes him happy.  Kyle loves to collaborate with other people. Rock band was a perfect fit for him because he’s working with and become friends with kids who have the same interests.  Plus, his teacher/guitar instructor Erik is a fantastic role model for him.

We are grateful for the connections my children have made through SSC, and opportunities provided that we couldn’t find anywhere else on the South Shore. It has allowed them to follow their passion.  Learn about fun ways to connect through music at sscmusic.org or find South Shore Conservatory on Facebook.

Liz Tolini is South Shore Conservatory’s Development Operations Manager. She has been with SSC since January of 2019.