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Northampton Community Music Center raising funds to buy its longtime home

  • Jason Trotta, executive director of the Northampton Community Music Center, speaks Tuesday about the nonprofit’s plans. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Christa Muller Hendricks teaches Claire Donahue,13, who Hendricks has been teaching since Donahue was 5 at Northampton Community Music Center in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Christa Muller Hendricks teaches Claire Donahue, 13, violin at Northampton Community Music Center. Hendricks has been teaching Donahue since she was 5. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jason Trotta, the Executive Director at Northampton Community Music Center in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Northampton Community Music Center on South Street. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/2/2019 11:13:41 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As 13-year-old Claire Donahue pushed her bow across the strings, the notes of the second movement of Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor sang out in beautiful tones, her intonation precise.

But there’s always room for improvement, and on Tuesday afternoon Donahue’s teacher, Christa Muller Hendricks, wanted Donahue to work on improving her bow technique.

“It sounds really great — we just want to get a more even tone,” Hendricks said. 

So she showed Donahue how to play that particular phrase more smoothly. She used the analogy of pushing off from the side of a pool to describe the movement she hoped to see in Donahue’s arm, gently guiding Donahue’s elbow with her hand. Then, she sat back and watched. 

“Really nice!” she said when Donahue played the phrase again. “That’s the sound we’re going for.”

The lesson is one of the many taking place every day at the Northampton Community Music Center, which recently announced that it is buying the building it has rented from the city for 21 years. The nonprofit has launched a fundraising campaign aimed at securing the money to make a down payment that will ensure favorable loan terms.

Founded in 1986, the organization moved into its current digs — the historic South Street School building — in 1997. 

“Since then our enrollment more than doubled,” said Executive Director Jason Trotta.

Back then, the building was in bad shape; raccoons were living inside, and the walls were crumbling. So the music center struck a deal with the city. If the nonprofit raised the money to renovate the building, the city would give it a long-term lease.

Since then, the center has raised and invested some $1.5 million into the building, according to Trotta. That includes renovations to the basement, where the organization built a recording studio and teaching spaces seven years ago.

“We made this the ideal home for ourselves, and we don’t want to go anywhere,” Trotta said. “Plus, we didn’t want to  … see our investment lost.”

So the city put out a request for proposal to buy the building, and the music center put in the winning bid of $205,000 in mid-June. The nonprofit now has until July 15 to raise as much money as possible before closing on its longtime home.

Connecting the community

Trotta said the organization has launched a GoFundMe campaign, and that the Beveridge Family Foundation has agreed to match contributions up to $30,000.

Beyond the sentimental and practical reasons for buying the building, Trotta said doing so will lower the organization’s occupancy expenses. That’s important, Trotta added, because the center offers financial aid to any student who qualifies.

“We have for 33 years honored that promise, and we’ve never turned away a student who qualifies for aid,” he said.

But in the last year alone, requests for scholarships jumped 30 percent, Trotta said.

So, the bigger the down payment the organization can afford, the more money it will be able to save and direct toward financial aid, he added.

Trotta said the music center is an important institution because of the obvious reasons: it helps connect the community with music, from toddlers involved in its “Music Together” classes to the Alzheimer’s patients who hear its weekly performances in their nursing homes and rehab centers.

It is the music center’s building, however, that forms connections between people, Trotta said.

“Within these walls there are so many shared experiences,” he said.

That’s certainly the case for Donahue, the 13-year-old violin student. She has met close friends at the center, where she has attended lessons since she was 5. Now, she plays in the Springfield Youth Symphony with some of those same friends she met at the center.

“We all go through it together,” she said as she finished up her lesson on Tuesday. Scores of folding chairs lined the wall of the larger room where she practiced — evidence of the recitals and performances that take place in the building.

“You really can’t beat a school atmosphere,” Hendricks, her teacher, said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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