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Upper Valley Music Center Acquires Larger Quarters

  • Tessa Barker, 4, of Lyme, practices a tune with her teacher Ben Kulp during a lesson at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, N.H. Thursday, March 16, 2017. "We're kind of bursting at the seams with musicians here and I think it will be a wonderful move," said Kulp of the center's approaching purchase of a new building on Lebanon's Colburn Park. "We're all kind of pinching ourselves." The Upper Valley Music Center plans to close Monday on the purchase of the building now inhabited by the Downs Rachlin Martin law firm and move in the summer. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Juniper Gillespie, 16, of South Strafford, works through a piece on the cello during her lesson with teacher Ben Kulp at the Upper Valley Music Center Lebanon, N.H. Thursday, March 16, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Don McCabe, of Norwich, arrives with his grandson Bradly, 10, for a violin lesson at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, N.H. Thursday, March 16, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Upper Valley Music Center plans to close Monday on the purchase of a Colburn Park building that is now inhabited by the Downs Rachlin Martin law firm. Pedestrians walk past the building in Lebanon, N.H., Thursday, March 16, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Isabel Hewitt, 11, of Norwich, right, talks with her teacher Susan Downing, left, at the close of a lesson at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, N.H., Thursday, March 16, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • At the close of her violin lesson, Sophie Cochran, 6, bows to her teacher Alicia Casey, right, as her mother Tanya Cluff waits at left, at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon, N.H. The center plans to begin its fall lessons in its new home on Colburn Park in Lebanon after moving this summer. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2017

In the nine years that Hannah Chipman has been playing viola in lessons and ensemble at Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon she has developed into an enthusiastic young musician.

But as the music center prepares to move to its new home on the Lebanon green, Hannah’s father, Jonathan Chipman, said he won’t miss the scene of his daughter’s lessons and rehearsals, cramped practice rooms in a building fronting busy Hanover Street.

“Yesterday the older kids’ string quartet arrived early for a rehearsal and had to cram into a tiny studio to practice because nothing else was free,” Chipman, a Norwich resident who directs Dartmouth College’s applied spatial analysis laboratory, recalled on Thursday. “The main performance space has pillars in the middle of the stage area and the ceiling is so low that taller violinists will sometimes hit the ceiling with their bows. The space and the acoustics at the new building will be so much better.

“It feels like a new world for music here.”

Thanks to a capital campaign that by the end of February already had raised more than $300,000 of the center’s $940,000 goal, music center officials closed on the former Downs Rachlin Martin law offices on South Park Street on March 20. And while the full move will take a few more months, the first few classes began meeting in the new space this week.

“We’d been worried about where we were for a while,” music center Executive Director Benjamin Van Vliet recalled recently. “With the on-street parking, we’ve got young children crossing Hanover Street. There are 13 really good spots on the new property, and more along the green and on the nearby side streets, plus lots of crosswalks.”

Then there’s the 5,400 square feet of space in which the center will set up 10 wide-open studios, plus the administrative office where Van Vliet will teach his 21 violin students. The current 4,000-square-foot structure provides eight spaces that “barely qualify as studios,” Van Vliet said. The new space, by contrast, “is laid out well,” he continued. “It’s not like one of those situations where we have to do a lot of renovations. It’s pretty much ready to go.”

Van Vliet had been window shopping for larger quarters for several years, looking at locations ranging from the former Woolworth’s building on the downtown mall after Lebanon College folded in 2014, to the former Sacred Heart and Seminary Hill School buildings.

“At that point it was a general search,” Van Vliet said. “The need to move was something that we knew was coming, but we weren’t at the point where it had to happen yet.”

With enrollment up from 300 students in 1995, when the center was founded, to 850 by the fall of 2016, the center reached that tipping point. Adding to the urgency was a growing number of ensembles for both youngsters and adults and for more visiting-musician workshops, as well as a merger with the Juneberry choral program.

Then, over Thanksgiving weekend, Van Vliet was driving around Colburn Park and saw the For Sale sign at the former law offices.

“We had been talking for a while about what the ideal location would be: Something that would allow for relationships with other cultural institutions like the Opera House,” Van Vliet said. “The social nature of music is that it’s an art form that’s about collaboration — playing together, working together — that needs a downtown setting.”

With the music center joining the opera house, AVA Gallery and Art Center, Opera North and the Lebanon Ballet School as cultural anchors to downtown, Steve Wood barely recognizes the neighborhood where he grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s, when his father Myrick Wood ran his medical practice next door to what is now the music center’s new building.

Even after the 1964 fire that led to the closing of Hanover Street in favor of the downtown mall, ”It was still a three-shift town,” said Wood, who runs Poverty Lane Orchards and is a former city councilor. “It was much rougher. … When my parents went to functions in Hanover, people would express sympathy when my folks said where they lived. Lebanon was the mill town down the road. It was the place where all the people who cleaned the rooms at Dartmouth lived. It was a working town.”

As the remaining manufacturing plants closed, Wood remembers, the evolution of the old movie theater in City Hall into the Lebanon Opera House “was the beginning of a revival that really rolled. … It was all sort of organic.

“But back then, nobody would have imagined what it is now.”

Pianist Annemieke McLane enjoys imagining what the new music center will become in its new location.

“To be able to welcome classes for individual lessons as well as workshops, concerts and ensembles is so important,” McLane wrote during an exchange of emails. “To have access to multiple rooms at the same time means that the scheduling of teaching spaces will be easier, and the music center can provide so many more options for lesson times without interrupting other lessons with having to walk through a room, or being too loud.”

McLane’s husband, Jeremiah McLane, a renowned accordionist who conducts workshops and group classes for adults, added in a telephone interview that “I’m always happy to have a place to perform that works and a place to teach that works.

“The physical plant of a school can have a great deal of effect on the students who come there,” he continued. “It’s not just practical benefits like more space or privacy or lighting. It also sends a strong message to the kids that the school, and they, are important. … I was at a music school in Concord recently that had been upgraded, and it really makes a difference. A top-notch school should have a top-notch facility.”

Now a freshman at Hanover High School, Hannah Chipman has been doing well in the Upper Valley’s old facility: She played in the second violist chair during the recent New England Music Festival, and this weekend is playing principal viola at the New Hampshire All-State Music Festival in Concord.

“It provides wonderful opportunities for young people, and people of all ages,” Jonathan Chipman said. “For Hannah, it’s been such a wonderful home musically.”

For Hannah’s father, the new home will be a relief.

“This will be better in so many ways,” Chipman said. “It puts them in this wonderful location, along with other beloved arts institutions.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.