Staying in tune with the community: Midcoast Music Academy to transition to nonprofitScholarship campaign kicks off Oct. 20
Rockland — The idea began on the back of a lobster boat off Matinicus Island. Today, that idea is a music academy that is becoming a deeper part of the community while inspiring and teaching hundreds.
After graduating from Berklee College of Music in 2005, Tom Ulichny traveled around the United States, living in multiple places, including time on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While there, he performed professionally and worked as an adjunct professor for the St. John School of the Arts.
New faculty join MCMA Three new faculty members have joined Midcoast Music Academy and will start offering private lessons in late October and early November. Mark Tipton is active throughout New England and beyond as a trumpeter, composer and music educator. A versatile musician, Tipton enjoys teaching students of all ages and skill levels in a wide range of musical styles. He earned his bachelor's degree from the Oberlin Conservatory and his master's degree from the Mannes College of Music (NYC). He currently teaches trumpet and ensembles at Bowdoin College and also has taught at Colby College, the Portland Conservatory of Music and through the University of Southern Maine School of Music Jazz Division. Tipton has performed throughout the United States and Europe and has worked with artists such as Bobby McFerrin, Quincy Jones, Maria Schneider, John Williams and Ray Barretto. He leads the Mark Tipton Quartet (jazz), and The Lost Wizards, an ensemble that specializes in performing Tipton’s original silent film scores. Saxophonist and composer Kyle Hardy has been an active member of the Maine music community for more than a decade. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music performance, with a concentration in jazz studies from the University of Southern Maine. Upon graduating, Hardy moved to Portland, where he began to search for his own unique saxophone sound and style. Throughout his career, Hardy has performed with many prominent bands, including New York-based jam band Soulive, The Rustic Overtones, the Portland Jazz Orchestra, the Fogcutters, Raging Brass Reggae Band, Grupo Esperanza and the Steve Grover Quartet. His soulful way of playing has been captured on multiple recordings, most recently on his 2016 album release, “The Kyle Hardy Group.” With eagerness to explore different musical avenues, Hardy traveled to Bangalore, India, in 2013, where he studied South Indian percussion under the tutelage of Sri Vidwan Vasudeva Rao. Upon returning to the States, he formed Trikala Ensemble, an Indian-jazz group that blends characteristics of both traditions. Hardy splits his time between composing, teaching and performing around New England. Tom Luther is an improvising composer, pianist and media artist working in acoustic and electronic environments. He has performed throughout the state of Maine with his modern jazz group, TLQ (Tom Luther Quintet), an ambient music trio called Algorithm and as a soloist. Luther also is a media artist, working with video, live installations and interactive objects. In his work, Luther applies traditional composition, improvisation, generative and interactive techniques, drawing freely from his experiences in numerous musical forms. He has released two albums of his music with the TLQ, “Everything Is Blue” and “Necessity.” His interactive installation “Spine” premiered at Waterfall Arts in 2015, and he has shown two multimedia works as the Kelpie Gallery's annual “Wet Paint on the Weskeag” fundraiser. Luther was a featured solo performer at “Jazz on a Summer's Eve” at the Camden Opera House and performs regularly with TLQ and as a sideman with the Mike Whitehead Group. He is currently working on a new ambient/downtempo trio, and an interactive floor puzzle that creates music. Luther is a graduate of the Hartt School of Music, and studied privately with pianist and composer Anthony Davis. Faculty biographies courtesy of Midcoast Music Academy.
His travels also took him to Baltimore, where he served as director of music education for Fells Point Music, and where he met his wife, Anne Bardaglio. Ulichny took a break from performing and moved to Matinicus Island, where he spent the next three seasons lobstering. The couple wanted to move to the mainland, and it was while he was on the boat that the idea of starting a music school in Rockland came to him, he said.
“I went home that evening and stayed up all night starting the process of writing out the business plan and went to haul the next morning at 4:30,” Ulichny said.
That business plan blossomed into the Midcoast Music Academy, which opened its doors in 2012 at 279 Main St. At the time, it was in 300 square feet of space with one lesson room and ended the year with a roster of about 30 students.
Fast-forward to October 2016. MCMA now teaches more than 100 students annually, has nine faculty members and has expanded into a 2,100-square-foot space in the same building with seven lesson rooms and aspirations to grow and do even more.
Ulichny is MCMA’s director and instructs on guitar, drums and percussion. It’s a family effort, with Bardaglio working as the programs and operations manager. The couple live in St. George.
MCMA combines the fundamentals of music – theory, notation and ear training – with what Ulichny considers a contemporary application to music education – “much like a mini-Berklee,” he said, allowing students to learn music and notation based on music that they love.
“Our focus is being able to accommodate all interests and introduce students to various genres – there is a whole world of it,” he said, adding that watching his students learn is very fulfilling and makes the long hours worth it.
The school is organized around three concepts, Ulichny explained – private lessons, group lessons and ensemble work and programming. Many of the faculty are multi-instrumentalists, allowing them to offer a variety of instruments – among them, bass, piano, guitar, drums, percussion, ukulele, saxophone, clarinet, cello, violin, viola, trumpet, as well as voice and composition.
They cover every major genre from classical to jazz, rock, pop, blues and everything in between, Ulichny said.
“We have a philosophy of allowing students to create their own musical experience by studying and cultivating their musicianship through the music that speaks to them,” he said.
And the scope of the student body is as diverse as the music the school offers. Students are of all ages and backgrounds – from young people learning an instrument to those with special needs, adults and seniors. Some are playing for the first time; others are adults who are getting back into music or who have decided they want to learn an instrument with their child, Ulichny said. Many students are local, but there are also students who come from at least an hour away to learn, he said.
As part of the programming piece, MCMA coordinates with more than 12 schools, including island schools, and it hopes to get into more classrooms and offer even more opportunities in the community.
Since opening, the small business’ number-one mission and founding philosophy has been that all students should have access to outstanding music education, regardless of financial constraints, Ulichny said.
“We’ve never turned a student away if they are committed to music and to their studies,” Ulichny said.
But to survive as a business, there is only so much the school can subsidize, he said. With the goal of helping students who are committed to learning music to foster their education, they created a scholarship fund. To date, with the help of 192 donors over the past four years, MCMA has raised about $25,000, enough to award 36 scholarships. The tuition support ranges from 25 percent to 50 percent, and in some cases, full tuition support.
The school is full of amazing students and stories, he said. One of the adult scholarship students walks each and every week to get to his guitar lessons, and he has never once missed a session in two years – he even walked to his lesson in a snowstorm, Ulichny said.
“What dedication – and it speaks volumes,” he said.
In early September, MCMA held a community meeting to ask for support with a question Ulichny and Bardaglio have been wrestling with – “How do we sustainably move forward?”
There was an outpouring of support, Bardaglio said. Committees were formed to help with marketing, fundraising, programming and structure.
“To be on the receiving end of that kind of support is humbling,” she said. “It is its own entity now and it has taken on a life of its own in the community. And now, with the volunteer committee support, it has a momentum of its own at this point, and that has been gratifying to see.”
Given the demand the couple have seen in the community and the school’s projected growth, they have made the decision to transition into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Currently, the Island Institute, at 386 Main St., is serving as the school's fiscal sponsor during the nonprofit application process, so donations to the school’s scholarship fund can be tax-deductible. The nonprofit status also will allow it to write and receive grants to expand its offerings. He hopes the process will be done within the next year, Ulichny said.
“My passion for what I do is the drive to continually be thinking about what it can be,” Ulichny said. “It is in many ways what I envisioned.”
The school’s next public event will be its Fall Open Mic from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 20, at Rock City Coffee, 316 Main St. At the free event, the school plans to make the formal announcement of its next scholarship fundraising campaign. It hopes to raise $25,000 by its winter recital, set for Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Strand Theatre.
“It’s an ambitious goal – but there is a need and we’re passionate about it,” Ulichny said.
That funding will support 18 students for both the fall and spring semesters, as well as support five to eight children for summer camp.
As the school transitions to a nonprofit, it plans to maintain sustainable growth and keep the integrity of the musical education it offers a priority, while being forward-thinking. There are discussions of being a satellite location for college programming, as well as having a focused college preparation course.
“We want to match our vision with community need and make sure that we’re being responsive to that,” Bardaglio said.
A digital media center would be a huge asset to the community, Ulichny said, and he hopes to have one by next year. Also in discussion for the future is an electronic media lab.
“It is incredible to see what this school has become and what the power of music can do,” Ulichny said.
For more on MCMA, visit midcoastmusicacademy.com.