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.
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.
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.