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Music academy founder and director Richard Boulger and communications director Jane Forrestal outside BAAMS new home at Western Gateway Heritage State Park. It's located in the former community television studio.

Berkshire Music Academy Works to Change Lives with Music

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass.—The Berkshires' Academy for Advanced Musical Studies nonprofit will be having its 4th Berkshires' Summer Jazz Band Day Camp the week of Aug. 15. 
 
This week-long summer program guides students, between the ages of 12 and 18, along a path that not only influences them musically but also personally. 
 
Students will be able to learn and network with world-class performers as they compose, improvise, and express their experiences and emotions through sound. 
 
This year's faculty includes musical leaders who have earned multiple Grammy Awards and have toured and recorded with performers or bands including Miles Davis, Mick Jagger, the Saturday Night Live Band, and more. Some are faculty members of the Juilliard School and Berklee College of Music. 
 
The academy is welcoming students from the Berkshires, Southern Vermont, and eastern New York State. 
 
Learning music helps children build a better understanding of themselves, and their environment, improving every aspect of their life, said founder and Executive Director Richard Boulger this week at the academy's new home in Western Gateway Heritage State Park. 
 
"We have found that when a student learns how to hear directly, and how to think and focus and even feel emotions, and put this into their music, improvised solos, into original music, eventually, there's direct carryover into the rest of their lives," he said. 
 
Director of Communications & Development Jane Forrestal said it has been shown that children who learn music perform better in school and form deeper connections with their peers. 
 
"When you're learning music, you're using, obviously, both hemispheres of the brain. You're building, you're increasing your neuronal connections, which spills over into other areas of learning and cognitive growth and development," Forrestal said. 
 
"So students who play music typically perform better on school achievement, see improved test scores. They're great team members, because anybody, any kid who's worked in a band, learns how to listen and connect with other people and be aware of what's going on."
 
Boulger said a big part of what makes BAAMS unique is the teaching system they use, which demonstrates that an instrument is a tool that amplifies what the student is hearing, thinking, and feeling.
 
Other teaching academies often teach students using the instrument, a book, and a music stand from day one, he said, which builds the mindset that the source of the music is coming from something outside of them, rather than from themselves. 
  
"So that is something that our kids will learn during the week, playing and learning by ear, and understanding ideas — and then they'll be able to really express that much more because the music is coming from within each of themselves," Boulger continued.
 
"And to Janie's point, we are teaching kids to work as a unit, as a team. To get one sound, we will compose an original piece, which I have no idea what it's going to be."
 
This teaching method has given the students the opportunity to understand and overcome the obstacles they face in life, he said. This was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
For instance, recent Drury High School graduate and BAAMS student Braden Collins collaborated with Boulger to create the song "These Four Walls," which portrayed the lonely experience of being in lockdown. 
 
They produced the song into a video that featured other students and faculty members and premiered it online at their 2021 winter solstice celebration.
 
Boulger said they have seen great results with their teaching method in giving a student the opportunity to create original music and work with a team brings them out of their shell and creates a spark in them. 
 
"We have one student who first came into our jazz camp in 2018. And he walked in the room and he was, very, very reserved, and kind of pulled away from the group, and within a matter of 30 minutes, he met our drum instructor Victor Jones," Boulger said.
 
"Victor showed him a few things and you could see, these lights are going on inside the student, quite remarkable. And now in 2022, that same student is if you saw him in this instance, he's a complete extrovert, very confident, and he's going to the music school of his choice.
 
Berkshires' Summer Jazz Band Day Camp costs $400 for the week but there are scholarships for those who qualify. Families can register for the camp here.
 
Boulger said no child will be denied music education because of financial considerations. They want to provide this resource to anyone who is interested, which is why they offer scholarships to qualifying families, and tuition is already reduced to begin with. 
 
It is recommended that the student have at least some experience playing an instrument to get the most success out of the Jazz Camp. 
 
In the fall, however, BAAMS offers an After School Music Academy to all Berkshire County children ages 12 to 18, which has the same opportunities and does not require any music experience. 
 
Boulger said he and his colleagues are very passionate about providing this opportunity to anyone and changing their lives for the better. 
 
"I've worked in a lot of what are known as underserved communities such as Brownsville, Brooklyn, where you could clearly see that music had a pronounced change in kids' lives. You get kids out of gangs, you get them into playing music. And once they begin to learn musically, their whole being can change," Boulger said.
 
"So now those kids, so many years later, have become accountants, [Certified Public Accountants,] they've become ministers, they've become educators themselves. It grows positive stories."
 
To help fund this programming, BAAMS is also seeking donations. Support and donate to BAAMS here

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Mass MoCA, North Adams Seek Study on Downtown Connections

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Getting people from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to the downtown has been a goal since the museum opened more than two decades ago. 
 
But despite bringing in millions of dollars every year, the massive museum's ability to revive Main Street has been tepid at best. 
 
Now the city and museum are "thinking big" on a federal grant to see if they can make a connection that's frustrated past arts and community leaders for years. 
 
"I think you all are aware that it's not enough to just put up a sign that says downtown's that way in the hopes that a global audience will find their way there," said Jenny Wright, the museum's director of strategic communications and advancement. "There are actual physical and psychological barriers that put Mass MoCA on one side and downtown on the other side of the highway. We're bifurcated by infrastructure."
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