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Updated: April 3, 2023

A village of music: Groton Hill Music Center enters its first full season

Four views of performances at a contemporary-design performance hall Photo | Courtesy of Groton Hill Music Center At the Groton Hill Music Center (clockwise from upper left) bluegrass band Watkins Family Hour, the center's own Vista Philharmonic Orchestra, A Celtic Sojourn at the center's St. Patrick's Day Celebration, and the jazz band Bill Frisell Trio

Imagine being a 16-year-old musician and performing in a 1,000-seat concert hall built to world-class standards for acoustics. That’s something that youth musicians get to experience at the new Groton Hill Music Center.

The center is the next evolution of the longstanding Nashoba Valley institution previously known as Indian Hill Music Center. In its old incarnation in Littleton, the youth orchestra rehearsed in a tiny hall and performed in the auditorium at Littleton High School, where the sound was hampered by the acoustics of a space not specifically built for music.

Lisa Fiorentino smiling in contemporary-design setting
Lisa Fiorentino, CEO of the Groton Hill Music Center

“Now they’re hearing how they actually sound,” said Julie LeBlanc Pampinella, marketing and PR manager for Groton Hill. “The room, it honors the sound.”

The move to Groton brings the nonprofit organization full circle. It got its start in Groton in 1985 but soon moved to a property in Littleton. There, it hosted visiting performers, supported its own musicians, and created music education programs in partnership with schools and other organizations all around the region.

The idea for the new facility came from an anonymous donor, a person with a longstanding relationship with the old Indian Hill operation who wanted to cement Central Massachusetts as an arts destination, said David RC Leary, director of marketing for the organization. Now, Groton Hill is the largest arts and culture nonprofit in Central Massachusetts, with more than $181 million in assets, according to its 2021 filing with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

“There’s a hopping scene in Boston and elsewhere, but there wasn’t really an anchor in this area for truly world-class classical and acoustic performances,” Leary said.

Affecting the way sound moves

To make that vision a reality, Epstein Joslin Architects Inc of Cambridge designed what it calls a Village of Music located in a former apple orchard and inspired by respect for its natural surroundings. The centerpiece of the property is the 1,000-seat timber-and-stone concert hall, which opens onto a lawn where there’s space for an additional 1,500 seats. During daylight performances, windows offer the audience a view of the surrounding orchards. A second performance space, Meadow Hall, has room for an audience of 300. Both buildings were designed from the ground up with music in mind.

Conductor and orchestra standing with instruments on stage
Maestro Bruce Hangen leads the Vista Philharmonic Orchestra.

“When you come into one of our concert halls, there are no right angles,” Leary said. “Everything is curved, and that really affects the way sound moves in the room.”

GHMC is located on a 110-acre campus, most of which is protected natural land. In addition to the two performance halls, it features private rehearsal rooms, spaces for music classes, a cafe, and a rehearsal space to accommodate lectures, receptions, and other events.

The idea for the center was first proposed in 2014, and, with help from the original donor and additional supporters, it broke ground late the following year. It opened in September after an eight-year building process led by CEO Lisa Fiorentino, who took over in 2019.

The new space is bringing some big names to Central Massachusetts. Country singer LeAnn Rimes, singer-songwriter Bruce Hornseby, “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr., and bluegrass musician Béla Fleck are all appearing this season. Pampinella said the center is making a point of mixing well-known stars with talented up-and-coming artists. It offers free daytime performances for the community, as well as concerts by its own professional Vista Philharmonic Orchestra and various regional and student ensembles.

Attracting visitors from near and far

Groton Hill is less than an hour away from Boston, Worcester, and much of Central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, and its shows draw people from farther away. That’s good news for the local tourism industry, said Melissa Fetterhoff, president and CEO of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“I know that some of the businesses I’ve talked to are super excited,” Fetterhoff said. “Folks are coming to the area and want to stay local.”

The music center is a boon for hotels, restaurants, cultural attractions, and all sorts of outdoor recreation facilities since many people may want to use a music performance as the centerpiece of a larger trip to take advantage of the scenic location, Fetterhoff said.

At the same time, Groton Hill has made an effort to be a good neighbor as far as its immediate surroundings are concerned. The acoustics are designed it doesn’t cause noise pollution in the local area, even when the concert hall opens up so artists can play to the lawn seating,

“When sound flows out of the concert hall, it’s going to float over the top of a hill,” Leary said.

A list of performances at Groton Hill - April 1, The New Black Eagle Jazz Band, April 7, LeAnn Rimes, April 8, Boston Conservatory Orchestra, April 14 Organist Randy Steere, April 22, Vista Philharmonic Orchestra, April 27, Groton Hill Big Band, May 6, Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas, May 12, Kinan Azmeh, Mike Block, and Fabio Pirozzolo Trio, May 19, Bruce Molsky & Tony Trischka, May 20, Vista Philharmonic Orchestra, June 11, Leslie Odom Jr., June 17, Vista Philharmonic Orchestra, June 24, Bruce Hornsby and
2023 performances at Groton Hill Music Center

The facility is compliant with the International Dark Sky Association’s standards for avoiding light pollution. All lighting is aimed to illuminate a specific area rather than scattering around or pointing upward.

With its new location, GHMC has expanded its staff slightly, from 18 employees last year to in the low 20s today, said Pampinella. A bigger change has been the growth of its volunteer program. Previously, four to six people helped with ushering, but today 18 to 20 are at every concert.

“You don’t realize how many people want to give their time,” Pampinella said, adding the volunteers are invested in both the organization and their relationships with fellow volunteers and GHMC’s patrons. “They’re kind of a new friend group.”

Groton Hill extends its work into communities around the region through its music education programs. It works with after-school programs and schools, especially in areas that have limited funds to run their own music programs, offering string and drumming programs, ukulele clubs, and other opportunities. In the past, the organization has won numerous grants for these programs, as well as a 2019 outstanding organization award from the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce. Symphony Magazine called the work a model of community connection.

While questions can arise about how to balance the performance and educational sides of the organization, often they fit together seamlessly, said Leary. Student musicians and amateurs of all ages have the opportunity to meet and even play with the professional performers. For example, when Scottish fiddler and composer Alasdair Fraser plays in May, he’ll also take time to teach master classes to young string instrument students.

“We’re interested in making sure that young people and adults both have access to educational opportunities and to seeing world-class artists on world-class stages, making sure this is not locked away from anyone,” Leary said.

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