Designed to make Beautiful Music -Fall 2014
by: Lindsay Pykosz
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
Walk along historic Centre Street in the heart of downtown Nantucket, a neighborhood of old island homes that once belonged to whaling captains. Over the years, some of these buildings have received major facelifts, leaving their antique nature intact but refreshing them with a modern twist.
Sprinkled throughout these blocks of homes are an assortment of bed-and-breakfasts, a church and a restaurant, and most recently, a new addition was brought into the mix: An 1842 building that has been transformed into a downtown education hub for the Nantucket Community Music Center and Nantucket Community School.
Owned by island philanthropist Wendy Schmidt's nonprofit ReMain Nantucket, the organizations celebrated a grand opening earlier this summer, a moment that at times seemed would never come after a fastmoving fire ripped through the building in February 2013, just months before it was originally scheduled to open its doors.
Since the beginning, the vision has remained constant: Create a space to bring people of all ages downtown year-round to learn.
“We were really excited about the idea of education in the downtown area, and that’s sort of the theme still,” said Melissa Philbrick, executive director of ReMain Nantucket. “We’re providing people in the yearround community the opportunity to have enrichment and activities.”
A BRIEF HISTORY
Schmidt announced the deal in March 2011 to purchase the building from Nantucket Island Resorts and convert it from an inn into the new home for the Nantucket Community Music Center and the Nantucket Community School. After receiving regulatory approval over the summer, Schmidt sealed the deal in September 2011 by paying NIR $3.28 million for the property.
Built in 1842, the building at 56 Centre St. has been known by several different names over the years – the Harrison Grey House, Haddon Hall and Judge Dunham’s House – according to Nantucket Historical Association records. The property was part of the Jared Coffin House Inn for decades.
The building had survived a previous fire in Febru-
ary 1987, when smoke detectors were credited with saving it from a minor blaze in a dryer unit, according to Inquirer and Mirror archives.
NEW LAYOUT AND DESIGN
Under the leadership of Nantucket’s BPC Construction, work began in 2012 to completely retrofit the building with new multipurpose classrooms, a rehearsal space, a recording studio on the lower level, a parlor for small performances, and a computer lab. The building was also lifted off its foundation to add a basement space.
Immediately to the left of the front door are the NCMC offices. Opposite that room is the parlor where small recitals take place and the NCMC women’s chorus rehearses with director Barbara Elder, who served as the interim director of the organization until Nanci Walker came aboard July 1.
The first floor also has a conference room and offices for Community School staff and a sunroom that provides extra meeting space and direct access to the back porch and yard.
The lower level has additional music space, including a recording studio. A room with 14 computers is available for Community School classes.
The second floor has more music rooms with Steinway, Fischer and Yamaha pianos and a classroom with 12 desks for the Community School’s Osher Lifelong Learning program. This room also has a camera that provides students with the opportunity to Skype with teachers and instructors from off-island.
A library on the second floor houses volumes of music that NCMC staff compiled and reviewed in the months leading up to the move. An additional multipurpose room provides extra classroom or meeting space, and has been used for a meditation class, Philbrick said.
The top floor of the building holds additional offices for NCMC staff, and an apartment for instructors who travel from off-island and may need to stay overnight.
Throughout the entire redesign process, Philbrick said the intent was to stay true to the building’s rich history but also modernize it and make it into something that can sustain itself for another century.
She said she is working on making the building environmentally friendly by pursuing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a process that can take up to six months. Scattered throughout the building are small blue circular signs that explain its sustainability and efficiency. One sign in particular points out that the flowering lawn serves as a food source for birds and insects, helping to support biodiversity. The lawn is drought-tolerant, and irrigated with recycled rainwater.
“A lot of what we do, and we did it with Mitchell’s (Book Corner at 54 Main St., also owned by ReMain), and I hope people will feel we did it with this building, is respect that history, to really restore some of that sense of an old home with respect to the interior and really restore the exterior and bring it up, to breathe new life into it for the next 100 years,” Philbrick said. “That’s why doing a LEED building is so important: to increase energy-efficiency, having water recycling, geothermal. It’s a healthy building for people who play there, literally.”
A PERMANENT HOME FOR NCMC
For more than 20 years, the Nantucket Community Music Center was housed on the second floor of Sherburne Hall on Centre Street, across from the Methodist Church. The space was restrictive, provided little to no storage, rehearsal or recital opportunities, and was shared in the summer with Preservation Institute: Nantucket, the nation’s oldest field school for historic preservation.
When the opportunity arose to move into the space up the street, it was essentially a dream come true for the organization, whose mission is “to enrich the cultural life of the island by fostering and supporting music education and performance opportunities for young people and adults."
“A whole new opportunity opened up because our programs have been limited here,” said Elder, who has been involved with the organization on and off since 1982. “The Preservation Institute comes in the summer and basically has all of the building, so we’ve been farming out for the past 20 some-odd years. We’ve been at the schools, the jazz band has been at the school, and we’ve been spread out. So there’s been no cohesive place besides our office here. Having a central location will enable us to grow and focus our programs.”
Each week, the NCMC consistently sees about 80100 students take lessons. While instructors would have to travel to students’ homes before, now they have three soundproof studios at 56 Centre St. in which to teach. Walk through the front door and the distant sounds of violins and pianos can be heard as students play and rehearse upstairs.
Those studios are crucial, Elder said, but additionally, the organization now has a library on the second floor devoted entirely to its assortment of music that had to be picked through piece-by-piece to check for mold and damage, as there was no climate-controlled place in which to store it before.
Artistic director Mollie Glazer said her mother, who is a retired librarian, helped cull through the unique collection of music that included a mixture of pieces purchased for the chorus and the band, as well as donated by people from within the community and beyond.
“It was like being in a candy store going through it,” Glazer added. “My mother and some other people were really useful because they were just passionate about the culling. I see things and I look past the mildew, the yellow torn pages, because I think, ‘Oh my God, this is so cool. Look at this’.”
While groups like the women’s chorus will have opportunities to perform in the new building, the NCMC will continue its relationship with island churches that have continuously opened their doors over the years.
“I can’t tell you how much time and money is spent finding locations to do things,” Elder said. “We’ll still have performances at outside locations. The Congregational Church has been very generous; all of the
churches have been. St. Paul’s has been great, too, and the Methodist Church. In the parlor, we can have a recital. There will be no large-scale performances going on, but intimate soirées, that type of thing with a limited amount of people.”
Having a permanent home “is a dream for any organization,” but for the Community Music Center, it’s going to open up a whole new set of doors and opportunities not only for the students, but for the teachers as well, Glazer said.
She pointed out that teaching a lesson privately can be isolating, and at 56 Centre St., instructors will have a chance to greet each other in the hallways, something they have never been able to do before. The group can now collaborate more, relax and share ideas.
“At a school I used to teach in in New York, I used to walk by somebody teaching a lesson and hear a particular student and get an idea if that person could play with my student. That’s the kind of thing we haven’t had, but that’s just one small part of it,” Glazer said. “The building, to us, the attention to detail in that building is most impressive. It’s nothing less than opulent, and to be in a space like that, that’s renovated and gorgeous, will be inspiring as well.”
The addition of a recording studio in the basement provides a brand-new opportunity that was never even a possibility before, Glazer added.
“That will enable us to expand a whole new part of the Community Music Center to just come up with the times, as it were,” she said. “You can’t just be a music school and give just violin lessons anymore. All of it will be a change, and we’re just excited.”
THE NEW FACE OF NCMC AND ITS FUTURE
Walker, who comes to the organization as executive director from West Hollywood, Calif. after 30 years as a senior executive in the music industry, worked for major labels, signing talent and making records. She is returning to her roots on Nantucket where she grew up.
She and her family moved here in 1972, owned the Westmoor Inn off Cliff Road and the former Compass Rose restaurant at Nantucket Memorial Airport.
“The truth is, I was trying to get back here the whole time,” she said.
Walker also worked at a school in Los Angeles called The Musicians Institute, serving as a career advisor and helping musicians do what they needed to in order to advance to the next step of their career.
“What’s different for me is going to be the fundraising aspect,” she said. “My goal here is to reach out to every single person on the island, especially the ones who are here in the winter, and try to get them in here with an instrument in hand.”
Since the building opened, the NCMC has been providing musicians the opportunity to purchase a membership for $50 a year that allows them access to pianos if a room is open. Walker said she wants to start a “School of Rock”-type program, where students could come in and take rock music lessons.
She said the recording studio will act as an outlet for musicians to create their own songs that can last a lifetime, but it will also serve as an educational component when instructors teach students how to engineer and produce their own records.
“The other thing that I hope to do is bring some really intimate experiences here, some really interesting and fun artists who will maybe do songwriting workshops,” Walker said. “There are some really special events that can happen here. I really want to involve the music industry with the center, especially in teaching. I think getting the teachers is the most important part. If we could get more teachers that live on the island, that’s a big goal, and then we’ll get the students.”
As an educational hub, 56 Centre Str. will provide more opportunities for the public than just music classes. Shared with the Nantucket Community School, the building is set up to accommodate many of the organization’s adult instructional classes, primarily with computers and long-distance learning.
It has also created a permanent home for the Community School’s family-education and outreach specialist, Susan Richards, a designated space for families and children with direct access to a conference room and kitchenette. Janelle D’Aprix, adult education and driver’s education coordinator, has also relocated downtown.
“It’s a home base for adult education to help bring people into town year-round and help build community. That was the main priority,” said NCS executive director Caitlin Waddington. “The other piece is having a place for our early-childhood program outreach person to be able to meet quietly and confidentially with the families, so if there was a question, they could ask it in a comfortable setting.”
Before, Waddington’s entire staff was squeezed into the former Teen Center on First Way. The first floor of that space serves as a meeting space for middleand high-schoolers, leaving the second floor as the only available option for her employees. If someone needed a private room, a small one was available, but it wasn’t welcoming or comfortable, Waddington said.
Before their move to the Teen Center, the team was housed in an even smaller space at Cyrus Peirce Middle School, which it quickly outgrew.
“I think part of the reason why it’s a gift to the community is because the adults are going to be able to enjoy the aesthetics,” Waddington said. “What a nice￼place to learn and be able to sit back and have a conversation with a friend while the kids are having a music lesson or a class. While the playroom is ours, it’s not a place to drop your kids off, but it’s a great place to spend time in while you’re waiting for your kid to finish a program.”
Because of the advanced technology at 56 Centre St., many of the Community School’s computer-based classes can be taught there, including Quickbooks, Excel and Microsoft Word training, and language, real-estate license preparation and iPad basics classes.
“In terms of early childhood, we may do some afterschool enrichment there,” Waddington said. “There are space challenges in the schools for after-school enrichment because we compete against ourselves.”
Waddington added that some of the space also lends itself well to the Community School’s smaller-scale children’s dance and ballet classes.
“We are creating and have created short-term programs, like hip-hop for six to eight weeks and other programs like that,” she said. “Those types of programs and classes could go down there.”
TWO ORGANIZATIONS UNDER ONE ROOF
Philbrick said that ReMain has been supportive of both The Nantucket Community Music Center and Nantucket Community School over the years, and understands their struggles to find space. In fact, prior to 56 Centre St. opening, ReMain offered the Community School use of its Greenhound Building on Washington Street as an off-site computer lab for some of its classes.
All voices were heard throughout the entire process, she added.
“The parts of their missions that can happen in that building, I think, will really flourish,” she said. “We’ve had a series of meetings with the management of both organizations where we sit around a table, usually over lunch, and talk about how the building can be used, the programs, and they’ve really been wonderful women to get to know. They’re committed to their missions to educating the community, their constituencies and looking to find a space to be able to do that. So it’s been a pleasure.”
Waddington shared similar sentiments.
“We’re very different, but I think we complement each other,” she said. “We’re both about expanding people’s experiences and development, whether through song or sound or career or prose. There’s so many different ways we can go to build community.”///
Lindsay Pykosz is a Nantucket native and a staff writer for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.