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New England Public Radio honors regional artists

  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Pioneer Valley Symphony music director Paul Phillips conducts the orchestra in Prokofiev's "War and Peace Symphonic Suite" during a rehearsal at the Most Holy Redeemer parish hall in Hadley on Wednesday, October 5, 2011.

    KEVIN GUTTING
    Pioneer Valley Symphony music director Paul Phillips conducts the orchestra in Prokofiev's "War and Peace Symphonic Suite" during a rehearsal at the Most Holy Redeemer parish hall in Hadley on Wednesday, October 5, 2011. Purchase photo reprints »

  • KEVIN GUTTING<br/>Pioneer Valley Symphony music director Paul Phillips conducts the orchestra in Prokofiev's "War and Peace Symphonic Suite" during a rehearsal at the Most Holy Redeemer parish hall in Hadley on Wednesday, October 5, 2011.

NEPR’s Arts and Humnanities Award program, now in its fifth year, will celebrate with the winners at the Log Cabin restaurant in Holyoke tonight at 6 p.m. The award is designed to recognize what the organization calls “the rich and varied art scene” in the Valley by noting the accomplishments of area musicians, writers, actors and others, as well as teachers involved in the arts.

Guitarist, singer and music teacher June Millington of Goshen, a founding member of the seminal all-women rock band Fanny in the early 1970s, has received one of two “Outstanding Individual” awards from NEPR. Millington went on to play in a number of other female bands and produce music as well, and she has taken a leading role in bringing more visibility in general to women in popular music.

Today, with her partner, Ann Hackler, Millington runs the Institute for Musical Arts in Goshen, which offers music classes, recording sessions and information on the industry to young female musicians. She said she’s thrilled to get the NEPR award because she sees it as “a cumulation of all the things I’ve done over the years.”

“I think I was really meant to do this,” she said, referring to her long career playing music and advocating for other women in the business. “I started out in a band with my sister in the 1960s because it was fun and we wanted to make some friends. ... Along the way it turned into something even bigger, and I still love it.”

Also receiving an award for individual achievement at tonight’s dinner will be Michael Mucci, the longtime chairman and director of instrumental music for Longmeadow High School’s music department. The department fields a large number of ensembles, from multiple choral groups to a full symphony orchestra, and those groups have won several wards, including the 2010 American Prize for secondary school orchestral performance.

The Pioneer Valley Symphony, one of the country’s oldest community orchestras, has received one of two outstanding group awards from NEPR. The 74-year-old group, based in Greenfield, has many members, of all ages, from Hampshire County as well as from towns in southern Vermont, northern Connecticut and even New Hampshire.

Also receiving a group award is Enchanted Circle Theater of Holyoke, which is dedicated to inspiring learning by engaging students in the arts. The group went into 80 classrooms in the past year to run theater workshops and performances, and members have also worked with outside organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Holyoke.

Melissa St. Pierre, special events coordinator for NEPR, said an committee reviews listeners’ recommendations each year for award winners, choosing from about 100 individual artists and groups each year.

Tonight’s awards dinner will also have a keynote speaker, National Public Radio’s “puzzlemaster,” Will Shortz, who has appeared on the network’s “Weekend Edition” show since it began in 1987. Shortz is also the crossword editor of The New York Times and the founder and director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Tickets for the dinner are $75 for individuals or $550 for a table of eight. Proceeds go to support NEPR’s programs and services. Tickets are available by phone at 545-3245.

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