Members of the Adams-Anthony Center and local officials at the former St. Mark's Church for the announcement of the academy.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Olga C. Sommer Center for Music & Art will open in the former St. Mark's Episcopal Church and host the Berkshires Academy for Advanced Musical Studies.
A group of New York-based musicians look to breath new life into the former church on Commercial Street. On Wednesday, residents and town leaders were asked to imagine what the Berkshires Academy for Advanced Musical Studies (BAAMS) could bring to Adams and the greater region.
"I like to say that every one of us have little candles in our heads that sometimes go unlit for our entire lives," Adams-Anthony Center President William Kolis said during a brief tour of the church. "But sometimes someone comes along and lights that candle and the person's eyes glows and that's what we hope to do."
The center is slated to open this coming summer and will give students ages 12 to 18 the opportunity to work with world-class music educators, performing musicians, and recording artists. Students will be introduced to core musical concepts helping them discover their own voices as instrumentalists, composers, and improvisers.
"It is all about channeling all the experience that we have picked up and giving the kids the insights and experiences in a very efficient ways," Richard Boulger, artistic director and co-director of music, said during a gathering at the nearby Haflinger Haus. "So we are trying to really help kids open their minds up as quickly as possible so they can better their improvisation and compose their own music."
The academy springs from an early partnership between Boulger, a professional trumpet player and North Adams native who with the Adams-Anthony Center hosted the Berkshires Summer Jazz Camp series in 2018 and 2019.
The camp was held at Hoosac Valley High School and county high school students were able to sit in with professional jazz musicians including Boulger and "Saturday Night Live" saxophonist Alex Foster, co-director of music and woodwinds director.
The group saw a need in the area for a more permanent musical hub.
Enter Halfling Haus owner Donald Sommer, who bought the vacant church a few years ago. When he heard about Boulger's project, he saw the perfect use for the Romanesque Revival-style building.
"I think it is going to be great for Adams and I am all in on it," the former selectman said.
Sommer said he dedicated the center to his mother and sister (both named Olga) who both shared a love for music.
"I have been trying to get a music venue in Adams probably for the last six years and ... these are first-class musicians who have come to Adams who put this program together," he said. "I am absolutely elated that I made a commitment."
Sommer said they plan to install practice rooms off in a side room and eventually in the basement. The main chapel will be used for performances.
He said the building will need some work including a new heating system but he plans to use his "children's inheritance" (which he said they were OK with) to bring the building up to snuff.
"The church doesn't need a lot ... the roof is solid, the stone work is solid. It is just the things you see that really need to be fixed," he said. "We are talking some money but we will get the job done. My job is to get a building … and their job is to shape the curriculum."
After the Summer Jazz Camp next year, Boulger said BAAMS will start operating in earnest and will be open to about 50 students for after-school classes. He said the students will have to audition.
"I am interested in the child right now who has huge talent but doesn't know and tap into that and completely change the course of their lives," he said.
Boulger said they hope to share their experiences and instill their philosophy in students.
"The instrument is really an amplifier for what you are hearing, thinking, and feeling," he said. "Freddie Hubbard was my mentor for 15 years there is no book that he wrote. He sat me down and showed me ... everyone needs a mentor in life and this is about giving students direct experience from the masters."
Kolis said he hopes the space brings in other artists from different mediums and really expands into an art hub in the heart of Adams.
"There are so many talented artists in the area across the board and we want to bring them together and offer unparalleled education opportunities," he said. "It puts Adams on the map."
Adams Arts Advisory Board member Richard Tavelli added it would be an institution that could act as a catalyst bringing in a strong creative economy.
Adams-Anthony member Michael Mach agreed and said he sees direct economic benefits right in town and hopes students that run through the program play together in town businesses.
"They will bring their families out and it will be good for business," he said. "Hopefully it will help bring business back to this town and get things going again."
Foster agreed and said they plan to hold four events in town a year.
He added that the center could have a transformative effect in Adams over time.
"Every six years or so there will be a whole new generation of people coming through," Foster said. "Imagine in 20 years what this will look like? Societies are really values and judged by their art."
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