South Shore Conservatory shines spotlight on creative development.By Jennifer H. McInerney | Photography by Jack Foley
A few days before Christmas, a group of women rekindled the time-honored tradition of caroling through a Hingham neighborhood, offering a glimmer of light on an otherwise dark and chilly evening. They trudged from house to house, honoring requests and performing lively renditions of favorite holiday tunes.
At every home they approached, the women were welcomed and applauded. One homeowner opened an upstairs window and addressed the ensemble with appreciation: “My son has been sick in bed with the flu for four days. Thank you for sharing your music with us!”
The vocalists are part of Woman Song, a female ensemble led by educator Jennie Mulqueen and one of many musical programs at South Shore Conservatory. Sharing music as well as other forms of artistic and creative expression by sidewalk or stage has been at the heart of South Shore Conservatory’s mission since its inception in 1970. Over the years, the Conservatory has expanded its programming to include all ages, establishing itself as a dynamic hub for lifelong engagement with the arts.
“Being able to serve people from age zero to 102 is very important to us,” notes Kathy Czerny, SSC’s president. “We truly offer a continuum of programming, starting with Music Together for infants and toddlers. Many families have been involved with us since the early months of their children’s lives and stay with us through the educational progression. But what’s also wonderful is that people who don’t start right at the beginning can join in at any time.”
Students of all ages and abilities reap the benefits of music. Children from newborns to nine year olds can be exposed to music, art, dance and even yoga in the range of interactive, introductory classes. Ten year olds to eighteen year olds can choose from more advanced ensembles from symphony to rock and classes vary from voice and harmony studies to lessons for specific instruments. Adults also have opportunities to learn an instrument or refine their skills, or even take part in classes such as Improvisational Comedy and Intergenerational Irish Seisiun. There are also workshops in jazz and rock and choral groups.
The Conservatory opens its doors to concerts, recitals and a host of performances throughout the year at its headquarters in Hingham and its satellite center in Duxbury. A particular highlight is its Summer Spotlight series, featuring Evenings Under the Stars, an outdoor concert series now in its twenty first season.
Music-Making for All
On a Wednesday evening in early spring, the singers of the Community Voices ensemble gather in chairs and wheelchairs before singer/instructor Emily Browder Melville. As she raises her arms high above her head, the group collectively takes a deep breath. Together, they release an exaggerated musical sigh that starts as high as their vocal cords will reach and slides down to the lowest notes in their registers.
“Community Voices clearly demonstrates the power of music and the arts,” says Czerny. “There is a real need for creative arts therapies for people with developmental delays and their families. It creates a wonderful opportunity for them to enjoy music and feel connected in a supportive environment.”
The pianist at the front of the room plays the opening chords to The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” a fitting selection given the long, cold, lonely winter that’s finally coming to an end. The high-ceilinged room resonates with the warmth of intermingled male and female voices, and the singers revel in their weekly musical interlude.
About seven years ago, Eve Montague, SSC’s director of Creative Arts Therapies, introduced Community Voices at the Conservatory’s Duxbury campus. As word spread about the program, the ensemble quickly gained momentum in both strength and size. Today, SSC offers Community Voices to singers over the age of 16 at both its Hingham and Duxbury locations with about 65 vocalists from throughout the South Shore in each group.
Montague characterizes music as “the great equalizer,” a mode of expression that’s accessible to people of all ages and abilities, as well as a “creative tool” that can address the needs of every individual. “Music is engaging and motivating and encourages socialization, communication, and self-expression.”
A Singing Sisterhood
Down the hall from the Community Voices ensemble, a smaller group of women gathers in an informal circle, under the direction of singer/instructor Jennie Mulqueen. The members of Woman Song represent a variety of professional backgrounds, including education, healthcare and business.
Initially, Mulqueen taught Music Together classes for young children and their parents/guardians. In the process, she discovered that many of the adults—women, in particular—enjoyed the weekly sessions of musical development as much as their kids did.
“There were mothers whose kids had ‘aged out’ of Music Together and still wanted to be singing, so we created this opportunity for them to continue,” says Mulqueen.
Thanks to SSC’s musical continuum, these women have found an outlet for pursuing their shared love of music at a high level.
“We are specialized professionals with lots of achievements under our belts,” Mulqueen elaborates. “We are busy, busy, busy and don’t seem to know how to change that. I like to think that Woman Song provides a singing and laughing oasis. We must have humor as well as melody, because we all share the challenge of striving for a more spiritual balance.”
Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Woman Song began with a handful of singers and has developed a solid core of 12 to 15 regulars. The women sing in unison, in rounds, in two-, three-, and four-part harmonies. They sing without sheet music and without musical accompaniment. Following Mulqueen’s clear cues, the a cappella ensemble learns its repertoire by rote, repetition and refinement.
“Together, we have come along the journey in understanding how song brings us into presence like nothing else can,” Mulqueen says. “The breathing, the harmony, the rhythm—connecting with our body as an instrument is incredibly powerful and doing this in community is a gift we give ourselves.”
Extending the Continuum
After 47 years in operation, SSC shows no signs of slowing its progress. In fact, the organization recently purchased a 7,000-square-foot building in Hanover that will expand its reach. While the Conservatory will maintain its well established campuses in Hingham and Duxbury, the addition of the Hanover location will provide a major increase in square footage to accommodate the expansion of its burgeoning arts therapies. An entire wing of this new building will be transformed into a dedicated Creative Arts Therapies Center—the first of its kind in New England. Building upon its foundation of visual arts therapy, therapeutic yoga and music therapy, SSC plans to create a state-of-the-art facility for continuous and progressive arts therapy care.
SSC has also recently reached out to two groups at opposite ends of the learning spectrum: in Brockton elementary schools, the Conservatory offers the ImagineARTS Residency Program, and in Hingham, it’s offering ukulele lessons to senior citizens.
ImagineARTS brings SSC Arts Specialists into 28 kindergarten classes on a weekly basis to focus on literacy skills (such as sequencing, rhyming and re-telling) through music, movement, and dramatic improvisation. Visiting musicians make guest appearances to further engage the students. In addition, the program provides professional development and support for teachers in Brockton so that they may integrate arts and music into the daily literacy curriculum.
The ukulele course at the Hingham Senior Center introduces students to the basics of learning to play a new instrument: strumming techniques, scales, simple melodies, ensemble-playing. For some participants, the ukulele may develop into a favorite pastime—but all enjoy the social aspects of making music together as a community. SSC also offers memory care services at Linden Ponds and Bridges by EPOCH, both in Hingham.
“We feel that it’s important to make what we do here as accessible as possible to as many people as possible” says Czerny. “We continually strive to emphasize the ways in which we’re the same, instead of the ways in which we’re different. Music and the arts allow all of us to be connected and engaged in an integrated community that is supportive and vibrant.”