Bringing music to the community in an affordable way

Violinist Marji Gere and pianist Dan Sedgwick are co-directors of Around Hear, an organization that aims to accessibly enrich the town of Somerville with the art of music. They offer free concerts and music lessons for low-income residents, inviting people to “gather, listen and learn”. I reached out to Marji and Dan to ask about the programs they created and how they continued to pursue this form of expression.

Around Hear was created in 2017. How did you know you wanted to create a musical program together, and what was the inspiration?

I (Marji) obtained a grant from the Somerville Arts Council in the spring of 2017 to design and execute a citywide community program tour as a solo violinist. The twelve performances I gave on this tour exposed me to many different and wonderful after-school programs and other community programs around Somerville, but the highlight of the whole experience was the series of visits I have made to the Mystic Learning Center, which is based at the Mystic Activity Center of the Somerville Housing Authority. It shouldn’t have been surprising that I felt most comfortable at Mystic; I had been a volunteer for the Welcome Project (based in the same building as the Mystic Learning Center) since 2014, and I had already gotten to know the Mystic scene pretty well, and I knew I liked it. I received another grant in the fall of 2017 (from the St. Botolph Club Foundation in Boston) to provide more free community concerts in Somerville, and it only made sense to partner again with the Mystic Learning Center and the Somerville Housing Authority to make it happen. . Knowing that any long-term art project should involve Dan (my main collaborator and husband), Dan and I worked with Florence Bergmann, the (now retired) director of the Mystic Learning Center and other powers that be at the Housing Authority to donate a grand piano to the Mystic Activity Center. The experience of working with Florence and other tireless mystical leaders to achieve this challenge, and then to establish a series of regular free concerts and a program of free music lessons, has been the most rewarding experience of our professional lives.

You offer free community concerts and art-based social and educational events. Can you describe what they usually sound like and what attracts you to the music you perform?

Since the spring of 2017, Around Hear has held free public community concerts at Mystic Activity Center, a community center based at Somerville Housing Authority. In our planning and implementation of these events, we consider the comfort and happiness of audience members of all ages and backgrounds: to facilitate and enhance listening, we pair music with elements of theatre, storytelling, visual arts, puppetry or dance. ; we provide printed programs in Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole and English; our programming features our students and other artists of color and their creative work; we strive to create a stigma-free space where people are welcome to walk around, create art, come and go, and yes, even audibly express themselves by listening.

One of the goals of this concert series is to create a long-standing community ritual of coming together for free, fun, high quality, uplifting and inclusive public music events in Somerville Housing Authority. By providing compelling, eclectic, and unique programming, prioritizing low-income residents’ access to these events, and welcoming music lovers and other curious people to the Boston metro area, we hope Around Hear will help break the socio-economic, racial, cultural and generational barriers that exist in our society.

Around Hear also offers free one-on-one music lessons to low-income Somerville residents. Can you tell us what you like about teaching, your approach to education and what it means to serve this particular community?

It is widely accepted by music teachers that regular, individual instruction is essential to musical mastery. While affluent Somervillians may choose to enroll their children in private lessons, this option is prohibitively expensive for low-income Somerville residents. Therefore, despite the school district’s efforts to make arts education inclusive and accessible, there is an arts achievement gap in school and city cultures.

Around Hear’s main goal is to fill this gap by offering free, weekly, one-on-one music lessons, performance opportunities and concerts, and to make these experiences accessible by offering them at the Mystic Activity Center, based in the largest public of the Somerville Housing Authority. housing development. Currently, we meet with 24 students, aged 6 to 70+, for one-to-one lessons each week.

As teachers, we continue to embrace the challenging and joyful work of helping each student find their own meaningful path in music. Each week, we strive to provide our students with opportunities to expand their musical horizons, use their musical instruments to tap into their family and cultural traditions, and explore their personal interests. It’s fun work that requires patience, humor and commitment from everyone involved.

I know that Marji is a violinist and Dan is a pianist. What were your experiences as a musician and how did you first learn these instruments?

We were both fortunate to grow up in families with parents who played musical instruments and listened to a lot of music at home, and in cities with strong public school music programs: Marji in Davenport , IA, and Dan in Worcester, MA. We had the opportunity to play in a variety of high school ensembles: orchestra, orchestra, jazz band and other small groups. While Marji focused on the violin and Dan on the piano, we were also encouraged to explore other instruments: Marji played percussion and piano; Dan played French horn and guitar. We both studied music in college (Marji majored in violin performance and English, Dan in composition), and we were also lucky enough to find our way to the Apple Summer Festival. Hill Center for Chamber Music, Nelson, NH in the late 1990s where we met and started playing chamber music together.

You have a concert just before Valentine’s Day. Can you tell us a bit about what this performance will look like?

Thanks for asking the question! Our next free community concert Around Hear is scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, February 12 at the Mystic Activity Center (530 Mystic Ave). For this event, we are trying something new: while we play music from 2-5pm, viewers are welcome to come and go as they wish, stay just for a moment or as long as they wish. We will provide our usual communal drawing paper and pencils, as well as valentines to write on in response to the music, or audience members can bring their own art, writing, knitting (etc! etc!) .!) to enjoy while they listen. We will play the complete sonatas for piano and violin by Johannes Brahms, the most romantic music we know! For security reasons, participation in this event is limited. If you would like to come, please RSVP here.

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