Spreading the Word About Upper Valley Music Center

  • Hanna Smith is the executive drector of the Upper Valley Music Center. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Hanna Smith is the executive drector of the Upper Valley Music Center. (Valley News - Libby March)

Lebanon — When Hanna Smith was named executive director of the Upper Valley Music Center last fall, the 17-year-old nonprofit was well into a growth spurt. The music center at 63 Hanover St. had recently expanded its programs and added teaching space to accommodate more students. In just a few years, its budget had doubled, to almost $500,000, Smith said, with about 83 percent covered by tuition, and the rest by grants and donations.

Her mission, the Hanover resident said, is to spread the word.

“We really want to make sure people are aware of us and are aware of the opportunities that exist here to participate in music.”

Smith, 30, grew up in western Massachusetts. She later moved to Washington, D.C., where she was assistant director of development at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She also served on the board of Project Create, a nonprofit that provides arts education to poor and homeless families.

She’s not a musician, Smith said, but she’s “passionate about the arts.”

“When I see the kids (at the music center), it makes me really happy, because I think it’s such a wonderful, wonderful thing to boost self-confidence and creativity,” she said. “It’s something that can last (through) your whole life.”

The center, which has about 500 students, offers voice and instrumental lessons, orchestras and youth choruses. Fiddling classes, English country music sessions and “Music Together,” a program for infants and young children, are also available.

Smith holds a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Richmond, a graduate degree in early European art from Christie’s Education in London, and a master’s degree in arts management and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

Smith joined Upper Valley Music Center in September, three years after its previous director resigned. Last week, she talked with the Valley News about her goals for the organization. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Valley News: In the fall, you had said that the center is at a place for growth. Is that still the case? How is it growing?

Hanna Smith: The programs have been growing significantly over the years, and our budget has grown a lot as well. It’s almost doubled, say, in the past five years, as have our enrollments, and one of the reasons is we’ve added a lot of programs. The size of our physical space has grown as well. Instead of being just one floor here, we are on three floors, and we rent space (for the orchestras in Hanover).

I think one area where we are really poised is to do a lot more outreach in the community. I think that’s one of the reasons that they hired an executive director. They really wanted to do more. We’re a community music school. We exist so everyone in the community has an option or an opportunity to participate in music, whether you are coming to the Music Together class, or if you want to come to a concert, you can. Most of our concerts are free and we offer a lot of financial aid, as well.

VN: In terms of your goals for the music center, what are you hoping to do?

HS: I think the No. 1 goal, again, comes back to outreach. Number two, we are going to celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2015, so I think we want to plan something big for that. I think down the road we’d love to own our own space, so that’s something that we’re looking into, too.

We’d love to have space for concerts to take place, or at least (not have) to rent outside of the physical building for rehearsal spaces for our group ensembles. It would be great to have the space right here. We really want it to feel like a community and a home, which it has, with a lot of the renovations and growth that we’ve already taken, but I think we can take it to the next step.

VN: I read in February that the center was talking with Bel Canto Chamber Singers about possibly creating an arts center in Seminary Hill School. Is that still a possibility?

HS: That is being organized by an outside group. There are definitely overlapping players from that group and our group, but we’re not spearheading it, specifically. It’s the Upper Valley Arts Alliance that is more spearheading that group. That’s something we’re interested in. We’re definitely keeping it as an option. We’re not sure what will happen. It would be really exciting to have one space where you could come and you could have dance, theater, music, art and have everything under one space. That would be wonderful, but we’ll see what happens.

VN: What are the top challenges the center is facing?

HS: I think our space needs. We have grown a lot and we have increased our space, but it’s still not ideal. We still have to rent, and it’s costly to rent. Compared to other music schools that either had a generous donor that gave them a building, or they might rent through the city for next to nothing, our rent is high, and not because we’re getting charged a lot, but just because that’s a big cost. Finding a situation were we don’t have that rent charge would be huge. Another thing is just controlling costs, making sure that we are spending our money the best we can.

VN: Is there anything I should have asked about that you think is important to mention?

HS: We have started some collaborations with local nonprofits (and) external organizations. We recently hired a Dartmouth intern. He’ll be working with me a lot on marketing, so that’s just awesome. We are very excited about that. We are also working with the Hopkins Center. We have a UVMC day at the Hop on Feb. 24. It’s the Handel Society (of Dartmouth College) with the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble. The musicians are going to do a brief talk after the performance about what music means to them and how it’s grown with them since high school. We’ve been reaching out to some other arts organizations, so we really want to focus on collaborations, which goes along with outreach. We don’t want to be isolated in what we’re doing. We offer a lot, and we want to make sure that we are overlapping in appropriate ways with everyone else.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.