Music Center's Grand Opening: Food, Dance and "Petting Zoo"

It’s as if the Upper Valley Music Center is finally home, but in a place where it has never been before. How is that possible? “Context is so important,” said Executive Director Ben Van Vliet, while standing in the doorway of the brick building on Lebanon NH’s South Park Street, looking out on Colburn Park. “We’re directly across from Opera North and the Lebanon Opera House. The Lebanon Ballet School is just to the left on the pedestrian mall. If you look to the right, there’s the Lebanon Library, and if you crane your neck a little, you can just about see the AVA Gallery.” The UVMC sees itself as a vital part of the fabric of these local titans of the arts and learning, a collaboration now made easier by physical proximity and the optics of having them all gathered around the town green. Throw in the lobster rolls from Boisvert’s food truck, and we agreed—there may be little need to leave downtown Lebanon, ever.

Previously the parlor of the Wood family home circa 1810, now under renovation. Beethoven was still alive when this home was built. Note the columns.

The music school is moving from its Hanover Street location to the 1810-era brick building that most recently housed the Downs Rachlin law firm. Renovation is underway to prepare the site for its grand opening on Saturday, September 9, 2017. Ribbon-cutting is at 1:00 p.m. There will be two world premieres of musical pieces commissioned by the UVMC for the occasion. The celebration will include food, tours of the building, a mini-music festival, a contra dance, and a “petting zoo” of musical instruments.

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The stats: The UVMC is a community music school that has existed since 1995; Van Vliet began there as a teacher and has been the Executive Director since 2013. There are 5 full-time and 25 part-time faculty. Over the past seven years, enrollment shot from 250 to last year’s total of 889 students, 572 under the age of 18; the remaining 317 were adults. The current catalog lists 36 courses plus individual lessons and workshops, including Singing for the Stage, Beginning and Intermediate Fiddle, Piano Performance, and monthly Slow Jams.

Van Vliet believes—and science supports it—that early childhood is an optimal time to spark a person’s connection to music. The UVMC offers many programs for kids, including one for toddlers (0 to 4 years of age) and parents called “Music Together,” an infant program (0 to 8 months in age) in conjunction with the Women’s Health Resource Center, and the famed Suzuki Program in which very young children learn to play the violin, and Van Vliet adds, the viola, cello, flute and guitar. A new program—Music Together: Generations—is scheduled at the DHMC Aging Resource Center for this fall.

Photo courtesy of Upper Valley Music Center

It’s certainly not all about the kids. Adults—many of whom “always wanted to play [fill in your favorite musical instrument]”come to the Center for individual lessons or ensembles—groups of adults who enjoy playing music together. As a community music school, all ages and all ability levels are welcome. Van Vliet says that Patricia Norton, the director of the Center’s Juneberry Chorus, is fond of emphasizing its inclusive nature by saying, “Out of the shower, into the choir.”

The diversity and number of offerings became evident with a tour of the building, still deep in contractors and the sound of saws. The “parlor” will serve for group instruction and small recitals. A larger room in the back has vastly improved sightlines for the toddlers program. Upstairs, there are 11 teaching studios. “This is the loud instrument room, “says Van Vliet , “Drums and brass.”

Architectural detail, ceiling, second floor

More information about the Upper Valley Music Center can be found here, and specifics about the Grand Opening are here. Admission to the celebration on September 9 is complimentary and in the spirit of a community music school, all are welcome.


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