ELLSWORTH — In the large, airy lobby of the Gen. Bryant E. Moore Community Center — known as the atrium — a group of eight or nine cellists sits in a wide semi-circle, bows in hand, concentrating mightily on the sheets of music on the stands in front of them as they play their instruments.
From the concentration, which furrows their brows and tightens their lips, one might think this was some sort of group audition for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra string section.
In truth there is only one professional playing. Seated at the top of the circle is Noreen Silver, first cellist of the BSO; the rest are amateurs — relative beginners really— and she is their teacher. Occasionally, when the pace drags a bit, she stops playing and conducts using her bow as a baton, until the group is back on track.
The event is an open rehearsal of the Ellsworth Community Music Institute’s cello class. The nonprofit institute was founded in 2013. The organization’s mission is to create a sense of community through music by providing instruction and performance opportunities for people of all ages, musical abilities and backgrounds.
Silver and her cello students have a small audience, which includes some youngsters who have wandered over from an after-school program being held in one of the rooms circling the atrium. One bespectacled little boy beams with delight when he realizes they are playing an arrangement of “Jingle Bells.”
When the rehearsal, which includes other Christmas tunes as well, ends, the players, who are all women, ranging in age from, maybe, mid-40s to mid-60s, lower their bows and also beam with what looks like both delight and relief; delight at having had a terrific time learning and making music together and relief that they have gotten through the program with very few mistakes.
Most of these women have a similar story to that of Francine Frank, who comes to the music classes once a week from, wait for it … Franklin.
“I took a few lessons in fourth grade,” she says, “And always wanted to return to it, but, you know, life.”
Both Janet Harrison and Barbara Russell come all the way from Belfast to take advantage of the opportunity offered through the Ellsworth Community Music Institute.
“Playing with a group like this motivates you to study and practice,” says Harrison. “You don’t want to let the others down.” Russell adds that there are different levels of proficiency in the group, but their instructor is very good at divvying up the parts in a way that challenges them without discouraging them.
Although Silver is an accomplished cellist used to playing with similarly accomplished musicians, she says teaching these women is a joy.
“I love to see the different way people learn, “she says, with a soft burr that reveals her Scottish background. She is pleased to hear that her students admire her musical choices, but the happy faces of her fledgling cellists and their audience has already delivered that news.
One audience member is Caroline Andrews, who considers herself blessed to live just down the street from the Moore Community Center. Though not musical herself, she is a huge fan and aside from attending these open rehearsals and recitals volunteers her time and energy to when and wherever she can be useful.
“Ellsworth is so lucky to have this new resource to encourage and support the talents of our extended community,” she says. “And the teaching staff is just remarkable.”
Nancy Colter, who is ECMI’s artistic director, says the instructors come from as far away as Eastern Europe (and the aforementioned Scotland) and as near as Ellsworth, Mount Desert Island and Orono, each with an impressive resume of degrees and accomplishments.
In between her own piano students, Colter finds a few precious moments this afternoon to give a bit of a tour of the premises. On the two upper levels of the building in what used to be classrooms is where most of the music lessons take place.
In one of these rooms violin teacher Margaret Ruell is giving a lesson to a young student named Owen Frank who, like his adult counterparts earlier, seems both serious about his music and enjoying the process of learning. He makes it through his practice piece without a flaw and looks deservedly pleased with himself.
In another room, a drum set awaits the arrival of percussion teacher Beau Lisy and one of his students.
When ECMI was launched two years ago, they had only 11 students and a handful of instructors. Currently, Colter says, 78 adults and children are taking private and group lessons in stringed instruments, woodwinds, classical guitar, piano and voice.
That number is likely going to increase considerably this with the establishment of a children’s choir.
“One of our piano teachers, Douglas Beck, has been wanting to start a choir for some time now,” related Colter, “and we recently received two grants that will make it possible.”
Beck will be teaming up with childhood music educator Deborah Reinke to direct the new chorus. They hope to recruit young singers in the K-8 age range.
Then, Colter’s 3 o’clock student, Liam Stephenson, arrives for his lesson. As he sits at the piano he mentions he has a few questions about last week’s homework assignment. But first, of course, it’s time for scales. Colter pulls a chair up close to watch how Liam’s fingers are positioned as he runs through the chords. Soon the two are completely absorbed by the teaching, the learning and the music.
To learn more about the Ellsworth Community Music Institute and its learning and teaching opportunities, call 664-9258 and visit www.ellsworthcommunitymusic.org.