South Shore Conservatory marks 50 years of music

Prior to the opening of the Jane Carr Amphitheater, Summer Wind Ensemble students rehearsed under trees and in the bunkers in Bare Cove Park, courtesy image

The music school, with locations in Hingham, Duxbury and Hanover, is celebrating five decades of music lessons and performances on the South Shore.

HINGHAM JOURNAL – Fifty years ago, a group of local parents and music teachers came together, determined to make music lessons and performances accessible to everyone on the South Shore. The fruit of their efforts, South Shore Conservatory, is still thriving decades later.

“I’m convinced it will be here for another 50 years,” said Jane Carr, one of the conservatory’s founders.

Decades ago, Carr loaned a piano to the New England Conservatory and was invited to one of their concerts in return. What she saw and heard, she said, convinced her that music is an essential part of life.

“I was hooked,” she said.

South Shore Conservatory’s original sign, courtesy image

When the New England Conservatory announced they would close their satellite campus, Carr and some other locals decided to take over and keep it running on their own. Fifty years ago this month, South Shore Conservatory officially opened.

They had the filing cabinets, desks and pianos left behind by the New England Conservatory. They needed funds and buy-in from community to keep the school going. They found both.

Prior to the opening of the Jane Carr Amphitheater, Summer Wind Ensemble students rehearsed under trees and in the bunkers in Bare Cove Park, courtesy image

One special donor gave them the money to keep the school up and running initially, and over the years they’ve intertwined themselves with the South Shore community at large, through increasingly popular concerts, scholarships and financial aid meant to ensure willing students are not turned away, and community outreach programs designed to bring music and art to people of all abilities and backgrounds.

At its inception, the conservatory offered music and voice lessons. Five decades later, it’s expanded more than its founders could have imagined, Carr said. Along with individual lessons, it offers an arts-based preschool, pre-K and kindergarten, workshops, summer camps, monthly concerts, a youth orchestra and ensembles that include chamber music, jazz, rock, wind, percussion and choral performance. Although creating music remains the conservatory’s main focus, it also offers dance, yoga and drama classes.

South Shore Conservatory’s arts-based preschool was one of the first programs SSC offered outside of private lessons and ensembles, courtesy image

They partner with some local school districts, like in Brockton, to bring art and music classes to elementary schools. They offer classes in senior centers, nursing homes and libraries. Once a month, they offer “memory cafes,” a space for people with Alzheimer’s and other memory problems to participate in music, art and educational programs.

Carr said it’s incredible to see people suffering from memory loss brighten up and begin to dance and sing as they listen to performances at the memory café.

Prior to the opening of the Jane Carr Amphitheater, Summer Wind Ensemble students rehearsed under trees and in the bunkers in Bare Cove Park, courtesy image

“Music has a wonderful power,” she said.

The conservatory was originally located on Main Street in Hingham, but soon moved to the former munitions depot near Bare Cove Park. Now, along with the four-acre campus in Hingham, the school also includes a campus in Duxbury and offices in Hanover. The Hanover space will soon include facilities for art therapy.

It didn’t take long for South Shore Conservatory to outgrow their first home in the Old Ship Church Parish House. They were fortunate to purchase the Hingham campus in what was the former Hingham Ammunition Depot. Here is their original vision, courtesy image

Gerald Jones, a 20-year member of South Shore Conservatory’s board of trustees, explained that the New England Conservatory is a performing arts school, with a focus on students who want to ultimately be professional musicians. The parents and local music teachers who wanted to keep the Hingham school running decided to relaunch it as a community music school, with an aim to make their lessons and performances as inclusive as possible.

South Shore Conservatory’s Hingham campus, as it appears today.

This approach, Jones said, has made the conservatory into one of the reasons families consider moving to Hingham, Duxbury, Hanover or a nearby town, as parents are aware of the benefits of raising children surrounded by music. Along with actually learning how to play an instrument or sing, studying and listening to music can make students more self-confident, more creative, more skilled in teamwork and more determined to chase their goals, Jones said.

″[The conservatory] has made a big impact on the South Shore and it’s had a big impact on making people feel like they’re part of a community that cares about the vitality and the growth of what’s around them,” he said.

South Shore Conservatory’ Jane Carr Amphitheater opened in 1996 and quickly became the home of Summer Music Festival, Evenings Under the Stars, and Wacky Wednesdays family concerts, courtesy image

Fifty years of existence means there are people who took lessons at the conservatory whose children and now grandchildren have done the same, Jones pointed out.

The coronavirus has put a damper on planned celebrations marking the conservatory’s big anniversary. And, it means the eagerly anticipated summer concerts and other programs like summer camps are all canceled or postponed. In-person lessons are no longer happening because of the pandemic, although most students are continuing to learn over video lessons. But, the pandemic does not mean the conservatory has not continued to grow.

South Shore Conservatory’s Duxbury Campus – The Ellison Center for the Arts, courtesy image

When South Shore Conservatory first launched, according to Carr, it had about 108 students. Now, including students in outreach programs, more than 4,500 people study with the conservatory in some way.

Carr said the school’s growth is a testament to the benefit music can play in people’s lives.

“Some people think of music as a sort of extra,” she said. But to her, nothing could be further from the truth.

Music, Carr explained, is something that anyone can access and understand. It unifies people, she said, no matter what someone’s abilities are or what language they speak. Having a passion, like music, is a crucial part of living a full life, she said.

“It’s soul-filling,” she said.

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By Audrey Cooney