A music school that is all about building community

Tom Ulichny hosted an open mike night in October for music academy students.

Tom Ulichny hosted an open mike night in October for music academy students.

It is coming up on four years ago that Tom Ulichny, who had been sterning for several seasons for a Matinicus lobsterman, came off the island and began looking for work on the mainland. By then he and his girlfriend (now wife), Anne Bardaglio, had bought an old fixer-upper house on Long Cove Road and she had shifted from working as an Island Institute education fellow on Matinicus to working on another Island Institute project out of its Rockland office. Before his brief time lobstering, Ulichny had been a professional musician specializing in guitar, drums and world percussion, “bouncing around,” as he says, performing, doing some teaching and developing an African drumming program for inner-city youth in Baltimore. That January Ulichny was open to just about any job, but he also had a dream in his pocket: a 12-page business plan for a music academy that he had put together over the course of one long sleepless night a couple of years earlier.

“It was winter and I was looking for work and not finding anything,” Ulichny recalls. “And I had this idea for a contemporary music school—still, how do you start a big endeavor like that without capital to get things going? But there just weren’t many options.”

At the time, Moran Insurance was advertising a 300-square-foot rental space on Main Street in Rockland. “When I saw it I thought, ‘I can definitely see some music lessons happening here,’” Ulichny says. “So I cut a check for the rent and then sat there in this empty room and thought, ‘What did I just do? This is crazy!’”

It may have seemed crazy at the time, but Ulichny’s Midcoast Music Academy now enrolls 90 students, maintains a small part-time teaching staff, and boasts three sound-proofed studio rooms that are fully booked from 2:30pm to 7pm each week. In addition to the private instruction and group work that takes place at the Academy’s Main Street location, the Academy collaborates with local schools and other organizations to provide workshops on such topics as songwriting and after-school programs such as the “Rock and Pop” ensemble at RSU 13. Ulichny and Bardaglio are particularly proud of the Academy’s scholarship program. “We’ve never ever turned a student away because of finances,” Ulichny stresses. “Accessibility for all is critical.”

Commitment to community, in fact, seems to be a Midcoast Music Academy touchstone. “I could go on and on about how music plays a role in building community,” Ulichny says with clear passion. “There are just so many stories to watch. We work with a lot of special needs students and with seniors—and we work with some teens who have had emotional issues. Music is the best way to break down any barriers, to feel like there’s some camaraderie. And the community that’s developed at Midcoast Music Academy is fantastic to watch, with parents coming in and meeting each other, their kids jamming together and all of a sudden in a band together.”

Ulichny pauses to reflect for a moment and then adds, “And not only that, during that one hour a week, or even that half hour a week, you can see how the face lights up and the students are having a blast, and all the stress of life can be gone in just that short period of time. We have an adult guitar group—they strum and laugh and walk out saying this was like therapy! Music is the best in that sense. So offering a really positive, creative and safe space for students to come and enjoy—whether it’s kids or adults—is so important.”

For Bardaglio, a writer who became an educator after working on a story for the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies about a one-room school teacher, so much of what the Academy provides involves its teaching staff. “They are part time, but given what they bring to the school and to their students, we are always brainstorming ways to support them and make sure that their hourly rate is really competitive,” she says. “To me it is so much about teacher retention and creating a strong teacher team.”


Anne Bardaglio and Tom Ulichny

Ulichny and Bardaglio admit that, despite the enthusiasm among community members for what they are doing and the success of the venture so far, the Academy is still a very low-profit entity. So there is a strong need to grow, not only to meet the demand they’ve been experiencing for more classes and programs, but also to become financially more sustainable as a business with the possibility of adding teachers, a staff music therapist and a paid office manager to do the things that Bardaglio currently does on her off hours from other jobs and contract work.

So it seems like another stroke of crazy good fortune that the opportunity to make that growth happen came recently when the Academy was awarded a $50,000 Microenterprise Assistance grant from the City of Rockland. “The grant is organized around job creation by small businesses doing community work,” Ulichny explains. “We will use it to double the size of our facility, to bring on more instructors, more students, more programming. We are taking a leap to make the business viable, but we want to stay focused on this midcoast community. I want this small music academy to offer a wealth of resources for everyone in the area.”

For Ulichny, it seems, pursuing a dream has been the best job he could ever hope to have found.­—­JW

Since 2012, Tom Ulichny has focused virtually all of his energy on making his dream of establishing a music academy to serve the midcoast area a reality. In the process, his work as a song writer and performer using guitar, drums and traditional world percussion was sidelined. “The focus on the school meant that I hadn’t been writing and performing music as much as I’d like, which was a problem because it fills the well for me,” he says. So over the past year or so he started making more room for his own musical project, a CD titled “Lately,” which was released on October 1. “This has been my goal for many, many years. My interest is in de-gentrifying music. I’ve been experimenting with pulling these beautiful traditional percussion instruments from all over the world into a context with which we might be familiar such as blues, fingerpicking, Americana and folk. Doing this, I think, begins to break down barriers and borders.” To purchase the CD go to tomulichny.com and click on the banner.

PHOTO, top: Tim Sullivan, bottom, Julie Wortman

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Having fun messing around with ornamental grasses

Calamagrostis 'Overdam'

Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’

I have loved messing around with some of the ornamental grasses, seeing what grows here and how well. Many of these grasses are late-season bloomers, so their flowers are still showy, though often dried and tawny, heading toward Thanksgiving.

Perhaps one of my favorites is the Calamagrostis family. These feather reed grasses usually bloom for us sometime in June and their strong upright flower stalks keep standing, sort of like bundled columns, right until the heaviest of the winter snows cover and crush them. The taller ‘Karl Foerster’ is a favorite and is quite reliably hardy around here. Lately I have also enjoyed ‘Overdam,’ which is a shorter variety with variegated foliage.

Then there is the Miscanthus family (also called Maiden grasses). I haven’t found all varieties of these reliably hardy around here, but the ones that are have lovely silver fan-shaped blossoms usually starting toward the middle of September and catching the low sun of autumn into November. I’ve found ‘Sarabande’, ‘Gracillimus’ and ‘Purplescens’ to be reliably hardy. There is a variety known as ‘Flamingo’ with cool pink flowers that survived a few winters for me, but died back one particularly cold winter. There is also the giant Chinese Miscanthus that is awesomely huge and surprisingly hardy. Give it lots of space as its foliage can get up to eight feet high, with flowers rising above that. Most of the Miscanthuses are tall, around four feet, and I’ve just started experimenting with a shorter variety called ‘Little Kitten’ to see how it does.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Panicums, known as switch grass, though they are hardy, and have some nicely colored foliage, with names like ‘Heavy Metal,’ ‘Dallas Blues’ and ‘Shenandoah.’ They bloom about the same time in September as the Miscanthus, and are similarly tall.  I’m just not thrilled with the flowers the way I am with the Miscanthus and Calamagrostis and I haven’t found the foliage to be quite as dramatic as advertised, at least around here. I do like that the flower stalks fade to a rich gold, and look good behind the silver fans of the Miscanthus.

A dramatic clump-forming grass that does quite well in our midcoast area is Molina ‘Skyracer.’ The foliage is a lovely, flowing, green fountain of leaves from which tall flower spikes emerge in August. The leaves might be around three feet high, but the thin gold flower spikes race for the sky and might reach seven feet. They don’t hold up all winter the way the feather reed grasses do, but they are dramatic until they wilt after frost.

Northern Sea Oats, Chasmanthium, are another reliable grass. They are clump forming grasses, like many of the others that do well here, and increase in size very slowly. The clumps tend to be about three feet or so tall, and the foliage is vaguely bamboo-like, so they have a different texture in the garden. The “oats” form toward the end of August and are lovely tan clusters gracing the tops of the sea oat clumps as the foliage begins to fade to a golden tan at the end of the growing season.

Blood grass

Blood grass

One of my very favorite grasses is Japanese blood grass, Imperator ‘Red Baron’. It turns out this is hard to find now as it is considered an invasive plant in many parts of the country, but I have had no problems with it here. Unlike the clumping grass, this spreads by shallow runners. It has the most wonderful red tops to its blades. This red, contrasting with the bright green of the base of each blade, is stunning. And it’s a nice height, about 18 inches, so it fits well in many garden situations.

Another short grass that also spreads by runners that I avoid is known as ribbon grass, Phalaris. There is a variegated variety that has nifty foliage, white to pink to green, but does it ever want to run and spread! Beyond this characteristic, which is something that can be controlled with diligence, I don’t like how the grass tends to die back and wilt in mid summer, sort of the way daylily foliage begins to die back. It can be cut back and rejuvenated, but the period of time between the tatty foliage and the flush of new growth is irritating.

Finally, a great grass for the shade is Hakonechloa, Japanese forest grass. Most grasses like quite a bit of sun, but this is one to light up a woodland area. There is a green variety and a golden one. I have the golden, and it is magical, spilling over a rock next to a path through a spruce woods. Luzula nivea or snowy wood rush is another grass that does well in shady situations, with nifty ornamental white flowers.

There are other grasses out there that do well in our climate, but these are some of my favorites.

—Anne Cox (Cox is co-owner of Hedgerow in Martinsville.)

PHOTOS: Anne Cox

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St. George School honors the veterans of St. George

VETDAY3 SMBy Allison Gill and Sophia Vigue

On November 10, at 9am, the St. George School hosted a Veterans Day assembly, as we do each year. We welcomed veterans from the American Legion and thanked them for their service. The event included music by the middle-level band and songs by the 5th, 6th,7th and 8th grade chorus. Some of the music that played included “Marches of the Armed Forces” and “Colonel Bogey March,” and “Grand Old Flag.” The 6th, 7th and 8th grade chorus sang “Thank You Soldiers,” and the assembly also included speeches given by the veterans, which has happened in many previous years.

Mr. Thornton Batty spoke at the assembly. He represents his ancestors who fought in the Civil War and is himself is a veteran from the Vietnam War. He said, “Patriotism is not dead. I share with my brothers and sisters here a sense of honor and duty that we contributed to something greater than ourselves, and that the lessons we learned will not be forgotten and the troubled history not repeated.”

At last year’s assembly Mr. Jan Gaudio said: “Americans profess to honor and respect our veterans on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and while their feelings are usually sincere, it’s important to remember that veterans are defending us 365 days a year.” He added to this statement, “Our debt to these heroes can never be repaid, but our gratitude and respect must last forever.”

At this year’s assembly, each grade went up one at a time and all students shook each veteran’s hand. Each year’s assembly is a good time for students to show their appreciation for the veterans and what they have done for our country. We are pleased to honor the veterans of St. George.

(Gill and Vigue are 6th grade students at the St. George School.)

PHOTO: Sonja Schmanska

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The 2015 Halloween parade

image1 SMBy Audrey Leavitt and Laura Olds

Every year, St. George School has a Halloween parade for kids in grades K-2, this year we invited the JML (Jackson Memorial Library) Pre-K program.

The students bring their costumes to school. There were a variety of different costumes this year.  For example, there were Harry Potters, Princesses and Super-heroes. The students walk from the main entrance to the town office downtown and then back to the entrance by the Art room.

This year Halloween was on a Saturday so the parade was hosted on Friday, October 30. The townspeople seem to really enjoy this tradition. Many folks lined the street to watch the parade.

(Leavitt and Olds are 6th grade students at the St. George School.)

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Photograph: Port Clyde Harbor

PC Harbor SM

PC harbor, looking toward Wawenock Hotel. Note masts for “jigger” sails used to steady boats, keeping them headed into wind while lobster traps were hauled. Big registration numbers were a WWII Coast Guard requirement. From the George French Collection, Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum. French was a photographer who worked for the Maine Development Cosmmission from 1936-1955. Photo 1942-1943.

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