Midcoast academy takes on music education

Beating a new path

By Dagney C. Ernest | Nov 21, 2012
Photo by: Dagney C. Ernest Midcoast Music Academy founder and director Tom Ulichny plays a a hadgini clay drum made by one of his Berklee School of Music professors.

Rockland — When Tom Ulichny opened the doors of his downtown Midcoast Music Academy last spring, he couldn’t help himself. Committed to offering music education and instrumental instruction to all ages and in a variety of genres, he nonetheless nicknamed his new endeavor Rockland’s School of Rock.

“It was just too good to pass up,” he said in his second floor suite at 427 Main St., located over E.C. Moran Insurance.

Rock is no stranger at Midcoast Music Academy, but neither is jazz, world beat and Americana. The Berklee School of Music grad has wide interests and chops, which makes him open and able to address just about any request that comes the MMA’s way. What he hopes to offer is an avenue to music education for those not likely to participate in school band programs or classical music training. He is joined in the effort by several other professional musicians: well-respected fiddler Tamora Goltz; Rockland District Middle School band director Abigail Nash; and Gary Clancy from the University of Maine at Augusta’s esteemed jazz and contemporary music faculty.

“The idea is to, in one central location, bring in the best musicians we can,” said Ulichny, adding he is particularly pleased to have Clancy as part of the fledgling business.

“I’m thrilled to have Gary, he’s the real deal,” he said.

The MMA instrument resources, much of it drawn from Ulichny’s own collection, range from a new electronic drum kit to a hadgini clay drum created by Jamey Haddad, a Berklee  professor and “one of the world's foremost percussionists … Amazing drum, amazing teacher!” Ulichny also has 11 djembes, African hand drums, that he shleps to schools and other venues including the Rhythm Masters course currently in Rockland After-School Alliance session at Thomaston Grammar School.

Percussion was not Ulichny’s interest when he arrived at the famous Boston music school. He went for the guitar program but got so into hand percussion that he ended up traveling to study tabla in India. And hand percussion is a good way to move a group of people, particularly young people, quickly into an ensemble practice — ensemble and collaboration being core values for the MMA approach.

“It’s easy to get 10 kids to play together; you can form a drum circle right off the bat,” he said.

Well, easy may not be the most accurate word. Watching Ulichny cajole a group of almost-tweener boys and girls into playing together, then circling around for short solos, at Thomaston Grammar School reveals that enthusiasm and energy sometimes have to take precedence over pedagogy. Still, as he danced back and forth between the students and a whiteboard with music notation, the technical foundation of the sounds they were producing was laid.

“I feel it’s so important to balance the fundamentals music — notation, theory, ear-tuning — with a focus on having fun,” he said.

Still in its first year, MMA’s business plan is focused on Rockland, Camden-Rockport, Thomaston, St. George and inland to Hope, as well as Brunswick and, at the moment, farther south.

“I’m going to Maine Med each week to work with a kid as part of Raising the Blues,” said Ulichny, adding that he hopes on-site work with special needs students will be an important part of MMA as it develops.

That’s a lot of Maine geography for someone who, just a few years ago, was teaching in Baltimore. After Berklee, Ulichny taught in the Virgin Islands and then in Maryland. When his school-by-day/gigging-by-night year ended, his fiancé, who was teaching at Matinicus’ one-room school, told him about a local fisherman looking for a sternman and Ulichny decided to come to Maine. Now the couple live in St. George, Ulichny running the Academy and his fiancé continuing her educator career in Freeport, as well as handling the MMA website and books.

“It’s great, we both come home and tell each other great stories about our kids,” said Ulichny.

In addition to instrumental lessons, individual and group, MMA offers a Songwriting Workshop. In both the songwriting sessions and by encouraging students to bring in music they like to listen to, Ulichny and his colleagues seek to find different paths to music education, rather than the traditional workbook exercises.

“Someone might like a Green Day song and we’ll figure it out — what are the chords and what does a chord progression mean? We want to build musicality and knowledge at the same time,” he said.

Ulichny has a lot of plans. The Main Street space, already lined with acoustic tile and other music-specific renovations, will soon have a Studio B. Ulichny hopes to offer genre-specific master classes such as blues guitar, theory workshops, annual recitals and more. He also wants to find grants and nonprofit funding for what he hopes will be robust scholarship options.

“We have lots of ideas! We’re trying to pull it all together this first year,” said Ulichny.

For more information about MMA, call 701-7410 or visit midcoastmusicacademy.com.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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