With a new building and a new name, Indian Hill creates “a music-centric gathering space”

Between the two main performance spaces, the music center will manage various configurations of music studios and rehearsal spaces to accommodate a community that grew to 1,400 students before the pandemic. CEO Lisa Fiorentino said the school hopes to reach a goal of 2,000 students after the center opens.

“The idea is to make it a gathering space centered around music,” explains Fiorentino. The new facility will feature a spacious lobby where expecting parents can order a cup of coffee and spread out with their laptops, or just sit and talk.

The impending move also provides a transparent opportunity to change the name of the music center, she says. It was time to retire the Indian Hill name.

Kathy McMinn, director of the Indian Hill Youth Choir, uses a puppet as part of a warm-up activity during a choir class for 4 and 5 year olds.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe / The Boston Globe

Unlike so many cultural institutions, music education centers have weathered the pandemic relatively well. Fiorentino says about 85% of Indian Hill students, children and adults, continued their education during the Great Interruption, many of them switching to virtual classes with the center’s 70 faculty members.

For the students who remained enrolled, “it actually provided a connection during the isolation,” said Fiorentino, walking through the new building a recent afternoon after construction workers returned home for the day. “At school, these kids have never had this one-on-one moment with an adult.”

For many, music education has been a lifeline during these difficult months. When Robert Cinnante arrived to take over as the new president of the Conservatoire de la Rive-Sud last February, he was impressed that the organization had been open to in-person classes since last September, much earlier than most.

“They offered in person while providing the flexibility of the hybrid option,” says Cinnante, who comes to the 50-year conservatory with locations in Hingham and Duxbury from the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut. “They were taking all the necessary steps to keep the campus safe, masks, social distancing and contact tracing to make sure the air purification is up to date.”

In Indian Hill, Kenny Zuckerberg’s daughters have been taking music lessons since the family moved to Acton a few years ago. Evelyn, who is 11, was part of a youth choir in Chicago and wanted to continue. Athena, whose ninth birthday is fast approaching, is taking drums lessons.

“She likes to type stuff,” Zuckerberg says.

Ben Xia and his 4 year old daughter, Yvette, participate in a choir class for 4 and 5 year olds at Indian Hill Music in Littleton.
Ben Xia and his 4 year old daughter, Yvette, participate in a choir class for 4 and 5 year olds at Indian Hill Music in Littleton.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe / The Boston Globe

Joining the choir at Indian Hill made the transition to a new community easier for Evelyn, he says. She took advantage of the music centre’s “Bring a Friend” days to invite several classmates, some of whom signed up for the classes themselves.

During the pandemic, Athena continued her drum lessons on Zoom. Not ideal, her father said, but better than the alternative: “It was good that we didn’t have to give up something she loved.

After retiring from the Plymouth school system a few years ago, Kathy McMinn joined Indian Hill faculty to teach Youth Chorus. As one-to-one lessons continued online during the pandemic, she couldn’t keep up the chorus due to limitations in Wi-Fi connections.

While the school has organized remote “aisle choir” chants, McMinn says, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of singing an ensemble in person. In early October, she gave her first youth choir class since the start of the pandemic.

“It was such a combination of emotions,” McMinn said afterward. “I couldn’t wait to see the kids again and make music with them.”

The protocols were strict. The children wore specially designed singing masks, which allow for better breathing and projection. (“The kids think they look like bear noses,” McMinn said.) The students sat 6 feet apart and changed their disposition every 15 minutes.

“It was exhausting,” she says. “But it was really fun getting back together.”

The exterior of the recital hall and school of music at the Groton Hill Music Center.
The exterior of the recital hall and school of music at the Groton Hill Music Center.Karen riggert

Over the years, Indian Hill has gone from home classes and rented classrooms to an old farmhouse in nearby Littleton. Groton’s new music center was made possible by an anonymous donor who came forward in 2014, Fiorentino says.

“We were lucky, to be honest,” says Fiorentino. After extensive research, the organization stumbled upon a piece of land that the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts was looking to sell.

Fiorentino, who lives in Groton, says the city is planning a promotional campaign, Destination Groton, to capitalize on the opening of the new music center.

“I never imagined this would happen in my lifetime,” says Susan Randazzo, who predated Fiorentino as Executive Director and is now Senior Advisor. She was one of the original six founders.

She always pinches herself every time she visits the new establishment, says Randazzo.

“But at the same time, I have to say that there is a guideline and a vision that was there at the very beginning, and it hasn’t wavered. We’ve always been focused on musical education and performance, always giving back to the community, even in the early stages. “

The Groton Hill Music Center is designed with an abundance of curvature: a rolling roof, huge arches of southern yellow pine. The 300-seat performance hall gives the impression of being inside the bow of a ship.

“There aren’t a lot of right angles in this building,” says Fiorentino.

Wave-shaped ceilings in rehearsal studios and small performance venues have both acoustic and aesthetic merits, explains Joslin, the architect.

“There is more room for the sound to flourish around the audience,” he says.

He and Epstein are undoubtedly proud of all of their accomplishments, the list of which goes on and on. But the connection to the Rockport site and the community that supports it is particularly significant, he says.

“We wish we could bottle this community and sell it to others,” he says.

They might be on the verge of making a similar connection to Groton.

“We are at heart the same organization as we always have been,” says Randazzo. “We’re just demonstrating this in a much bigger way. “

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @sullivanjames.

The recital hall of the Groton Hill Music Center.
The recital hall of the Groton Hill Music Center.Epstein Joslin Architects


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