Joy of Music Program 25th Anniversary Spring Gala
When: 7 p.m. May 16
Where: Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St., Worcester
How much: Free. The concert will be followed by a reception with snacks and a cash bar
By Richard Duckett TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
At JOMP I learned about music — about improvisation, about how to be a performer, about instrumental technique and ensemble playing — but I also learned a lot about myself, about what I can do when I give everything I've got ...
-- Sarah Politz, A FORMER JOMP STUDENT
It's been "joy" right from the beginning.
The word "joy" as in the Joy of Music Program was there right from the start.
"I chose it very carefully," Wendy Ardizzone said of the word and the name of the program she started in the fall of 1986 for music and movement classes for preschool children. The classes were held in the basement of First Unitarian Church in Worcester with 12 children — three classes of four children each.
"I chose the name for young children and small groups," Ardizzone said. "I'm very careful in my use of the word joy. Through raising my own children and studying early childhood, I saw that music is such an innate source of joy. I just wanted to tap into that."
More than 25 years later, the Joy of Music Program (or JOMP as it is almost universally known locally) is now a nonprofit community music school with about 600 students (children and adults), a faculty of 42 who teach an array of musical instruments, and its own neat looking, spacious building at 1 Gorham St. (off Lincoln Street), Worcester.
Ardizzone, JOMP's director as well as its founder, said another word will spring to mind Wednesday at JOMP's "Spring Gala" at Mechanics Hall celebrating its 25th anniversary.
"Gratitude," she said.
JOMP started putting on annual gala concerts at Mechanics Hall five years ago. Their purpose "is really to celebrate the impact this community has had on the school. And when I look out at the audience, it's just so heartwarming the level of caring about music. Everyone in the hall is contributing in some way, whether they've donated, or dropped the kids off for lessons (over the years), it's just a special aura," Ardizzone said.
"People are always surprised by the quality of what they hear," said Richard Ardizzone, Wendy Ardizzone's husband and JOMP's associate director.
"They think they're going to hear a student orchestra — but it doesn't sound like a student orchestra. It sounds wonderful," he said.
Wednesday's free concert will feature the JOMP Youth Orchestra performing works by Glinka, Faure, the prelude from "Hansel and Gretel" by Engelbert Humperdink, and "Hoe-Down" from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo Suite." Also taking the stage will be the JOMP String Ensemble, Recorder Ensemble, and Jazz Patterns and Jazz Trane jazz ensembles.
"It's really exiting for me to see them reach a stage where they can share their music in a space like Mechanics Hall," Wendy Ardizzone said of the student performers.
Some have been students at JOMP for 12 or more years. Over the course of the school's 25 years, thousands of people have grown up and gone out into the world with JOMP having played an integral part in their lives.
"I was a student at JOMP for my entire formal education — the entire time I was in the Worcester Public Schools (kindergarten through high school) and then during the summers when I was in college," said Will Green, now pastor of St. Nicholas United Methodist Church in Hull.
"It was an essential part of my education and formation as a young person. In addition to learning the habits and skills of being a musician, I was also exposed to other cultures, made powerful friendships and was able to play a part in building a valuable community organization," he said.
"Music is part of my life and a part of who I am. I use my voice and body, music and movement, to teach adults, to inspire people, to build community, to praise God and to share joy," he said. "Things would be different in my life if it weren't for the Joy of Music Program. I thank Wendy and Rich. I thank my parents for making this a part of my life. I thank Worcester for its belief that the arts are a part of what makes a community."
Sarah Politz, who is working on a doctoral dissertation in ethnomusicology at Harvard University, studied trombone (including with Richard Ardizzone) at JOMP from seventh grade through high school.
"At JOMP I learned about music — about improvisation, about how to be a performer, about instrumental technique and ensemble playing — but I also learned a lot about myself, about what I can do when I give everything I've got, about the difference it makes to have someone completely in your corner, about how playing music ministers to people and brings them together in community," Politz said. "We had fun — but it was serious fun. I always knew the standards were high at JOMP, and I wanted to play my best for myself and for the other students in my ensembles."
JOMP had extraordinary growth as its institutional joy in music, friendly ambiance and the dedication of the Ardizzones and all the teachers caught on and became widely known.
There have been plenty of challenges, however. For one thing, there are other music schools — nonprofit and for profit — in the area, and they also have great reputations. The economic downturn of 2008 had an impact on JOMP, just like it did many arts and education groups. Last year, JOMP gave out more than $111,000 to students in financial aid. Of the 52 students performing at Wednesday's concert, 40 percent are receiving financial aid, Richard Ardizzone said.
But it was a fire at First Unitarian Church in 2000 that was JOMP's greatest challenge, the couple agreed. JOMP's classes and office areas sustained heavy water damage.
"We thought it was over," Richard Ardizzone said. "We were negotiating for this building (1 Gorham St.) but we were far from agreement."
Officials with Wesley United Methodist Church located on the same strip of north Main Street as First Unitarian Church immediately stepped forward as good friends and neighbors, offering JOMP space.
"They sought us out the next morning," Richard Ardizzone said.
"Wesley just couldn't have been more wonderful," said Wendy Ardizzone. The memory still brings tears to her eyes.
The Ardizzones' had met when they were both music students at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Neither are Worcester natives, but the couple settled in Worcester after Richard Ardizzone became director of Rainbow Child Development Center, a child care agency. His wife, a piano teacher, subsequently became interested in music and movement, and thought about forming a program with the word "joy" in it.
Richard Ardizzone left Rainbow Child Development to join JOMP administratively and also to teach (trombone, percussion and jazz) in 1994 as the school continued to expand. "I loved working at Rainbow," he said. "This (JOMP) was powerful enough that I left it."
Other words that will likely spring to mind Wednesday are "excitement, there's pride ... there's a poignancy also," Richard Ardizzone said.
Five to seven years is how much longer the couple see themselves at the helm of JOMP before handing over the reins to new leadership.
"We're working very closely with our board (of directors) on everything related to succession," Wendy Ardizzone said.
"We're saying five to seven years, and I think that's accurate," Richard Ardizzone said. "You really do have to put it on the table and deal with it."
One thing that doesn't need to be dealt with is "JOMP," the school's recognizable name from the start.
"Three times we considered changing the name of the school," Richard Ardizzone said. "Three times we came to the conclusion you can't possibly change the name."