Westport School Of Music: A New Tune On Newtown Turnpike

In 1938, Marguerite Maxwell opened the Westport School of Music on Hillspoint Road. With 2 teachers and 40 students, it was a cultural and educational addition to what was already a burgeoning artists’ community.

In 1946, Maxwell purchased property on Woods Grove Road. The school moved there, with 9 faculty and over 100 students. Her rapport with children, organizational skills and administrative ability all helped drive the WSM’s growth.

Concert pianist Richard Gregor joined the faculty as artist-teacher in 1958. He created the first Scholarship Fund Benefit Concert 2 years later. Since then, more than 500 students have been granted over $140, 000 in aid.

Gregor took over as director following Maxwell’s death in 1972. As a teacher, administrator and performer, he too left his mark on the school.

The next director — Martha Hisey — ​used funds raised from Newman’s Own Foundation, Near And Far Aid Organization, The Fairfield County Foundation, and generous parents and donors to begin the WSM MusicWorks! music therapy program for students with special needs. She also developed chamber music series.

Sarah Miller became the 4th director in 2017. She continues the WSM tradition of excellence, while incorporating new initiatives like community partnerships and collaborations.

They include student performances for residents in long-term care faiclities, a partnership with Norwalk Housing Authority to bring 4th and 5th graders to a chorus/movement program, a Celtic music workshop for string players, and a chorus pilot project with the Senior Center.

Now the Westport School of Music is making another major change.

The Woods Grove property that for 74 years has been the school’s home has been showing its age. Repair and maintenance needs have increased.

The Westport School of Music on Woods Grove Road.

Last fall, Miller visited MoCA Westport to see if their exhibit space would work for yearly recitals and biannual student chamber concerts.

Executive director Ruth Mannes gave her a tour of MoCA’s new 19 Newtown Turnpike space. The 2nd floor was not in use.

Voila! That floor will soon be the new home of Westport School of Music. Like MoCA, they are a tenant of what was once Martha Stewart’s TV studio; the 2 organizations are not merging.

But the synergy of two cultural organizations in close physical proximity — with common goals of building new audiences, exploring collaborative projects and strengthening community ties — is exciting.

WSM students, faculty and families can be engaged with MoCA exhibits and programs. Similarly, the museum’s artists, students and visitors can be engaged with the music school’s offerings.

Westport School of Music takes over the 2nd floor at 19 Newtown Turnpike.

WSM begins its 83rd school year September 21. Since mid-March, instruction has been online.

Miller praises her staff’s ability to pivot quickly and professionally. Parents have praised their continued focus on a strong technical foundation, self-discipline and creativity. Virtual end-of-year recitals were well received too.

The 2020-21 school year opens with 3 weeks of online lessons. If it’s safe to do so, in-person instruction begins the week of October 12.

Piano, violin, viola, cello, string and electric bass, and acoustic guitar will be offered in the new location. Woodwind and voice instruction will be online, in step with the latest research on aerosol spread of COVID-19.

Virtual instruction on all instruments is an option for any student whose parents are not comfortable with in-person learning.

From the woods of Woods Grove, to the woods of Newtown Turnpike, this marks an exciting new adventure for the Westport School of Music. For information on programs and offerings, click here.

15 responses to “Westport School Of Music: A New Tune On Newtown Turnpike

  1. I remember going to WSM for piano lessons (following in the footsteps of my older sister) with Mrs Maxwell. She had two grand pianos in her living room/teaching/recital space and her two standard poodles were always part of the scene. She was a good teacher; unfortunately, I was not as good a student and recitals were always nerve-wracking for me. It is wonderful to read that the school is still going strong.

  2. Rosemary Milligan

    So many memories – hard to imagine the school any place but Woods Grove. I wish them luck.

  3. How do the Westport School of Music and MoCA Westport claim to be in Westport when they’re in Norwalk? What town delivers their mail?

    I remember the School of Music in Wood’s Grove but this picture looks different. I didn’t study there – my piano teacher was Ruth Manning.

    • 19 Newtown Turnpike, Westport, CT 06880

    • Peter, the property is split between the two. The driveway and mailbox is actually in Westport. The road across from the driveway is Crawford and that’s definitely Westport.
      Just like in other parts of Norwalk and Westport the borders are not perfectly straight.

      • I grew up near here and know the area very well. We were Westporters who discovered one day during the war that our house was actually in Norwalk. But I went to Westport schools because the driveway came out in Westport. That’s not allowed anymore.

        • I had a school mate John who had a choice of Norwalk or Westport because one of half the house was in Westport the other half in Norwalk (along with two different tax bills). He choose Norwalk-Wolfpit Elementary , Nathan Hale Middle and Norwalk High.
          This was done through the ’70s, ’80s and into the late ’90s.

  4. Finally…more space! Back in the early ’70s, I played at a few terrifying piano recitals in the very cramped second floor living room. One of the events was so hot and overcrowded that my poor grandmother fainted! Way too much trauma for an eight-year-old!

  5. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Glad to hear that WSM now moving to a larger space, and best of luck to
    everyone, there!
    Small world, here..(I,too,as Peter Barlow, studied with Ruth Manning from 1961-1969 at her home (7 Washington Ave. ). Long-ago memories of long,summer piano recitals in her (also ‘very cramped’) living room, with families seated on wooden chairs. To make matters worse,, back then Ruth had a basset hound ‘Phoebe’;during these recitals, Ruth kept her in the kitchen.One such recital, Phoebe escaped from kitchen,run out into the living room, pure chaos erupted as she jumped all over everyone seated, during a determined student’s playing.(This perhaps Could have been a scene from a 1960’s sitcom,but Ruth understandably was furious at her Phoebe,that afternoon!.:-)

    • Hi Linda. I remember those recitals. I was scared to death. But this was about 20-25 years earlier. Ruth was one of the great people of the world and I knew her for decades.

  6. I as one of Margeurite Maxwells grandchildren sprint much of my youth visiting her at Woods Grove. A tradition was our family’s Christmas Eve dinner, where she always opened the gifts from her students. My mother Robin Maxwell lworked for her in the office for many years. The house and the school were part of the fabric of my childhood. So it is mixed feelings that I learn that the school will be moving, although I do believe a larger space will be a big benefit.
    I look forward to visiting it sometime in thdnear future.
    Lisa Maxwell

  7. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Hi Lisa,
    ..Reading your memories of WSM,Any chance that you have an older sister ‘Linda Maxwell’?..(if so, I remember you both from Weston Jr. High and WHS,early 1970’s (I played piano for all the choirs, there,back then.I believe Lisa went by nickname of ‘Max’,in those days.& as the fashion style was, she wore micro skirts,despite the principal’s strict rules.:-)

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