Transcription of John Williams for the show Healing with Sound #33

Lisa:                Earlier we spoke with Kate Beever, music therapist, about healing with sound. We’re going to be speaking with two people who are doing a very different type of healing, but also with sound.

Today we have with us John Williams, Executive Director, and Amy Kuhn, Development Director, from 317 Main Street in Yarmouth.

Thank you for coming in.

Amy:                Thank you.

John W.:         Thanks.

Lisa:                What was the impetus? Why was it important to bring in a place to learn music on Main Street in Yarmouth?

John W.:         317 is about seven years old now. It was the brainchild of a guy named Peter Milliken who had this incredible idea about community and bringing people together and having music be this incredible, powerful thing that all of us have within ourselves that we can all access.

He felt that community is important and Yarmouth was a great place to create something like this. It was really his idea to buy a building on Main Street and have music be the featured thing that brought community together. That was seven years ago.

We’re a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and have grown considerably over the last seven years to where we now have over 400 people per week come through for various types of music programs, lessons, groups, and band play.

Lisa:                You yourself play an instrument?

John W.:         I do. I was board chair from the beginning, so I sort of was part of the dream and thinking about how this could work. I started playing music seriously about eight years ago. I play the mandolin.

I messed around with a guitar and banjo when I was in college, and sort of went other ways and then came back to music about eight years ago. I’ve really got the passion for it. It’s an amazing place to be because you hear music all day long.

Lisa:                What was it about mandolin that you’d decided this is the instrument for me?

John W.:         Sure. I traveled a ton. I did environmental consulting work before I became executive director two years ago. I was on an airplane all the time. I wanted an instrument that I could bring with me, and mandolin was perfect because it fit in the overhead compartment rack. That was really the impetus for playing that instrument.

Lisa:                That’s a very practical approach to bringing music into your life then.

How about you, Amy? Do you play an instrument? Or sing?

Amy:                I’m embarrassed to say, people ask me that all the time and I have to tell them I’m the only muggle up there at 317. I am not a musician, although I strive to become one. I am a real believer in community and that that’s a really central part to everyone’s well-being. That part I connect with at a personal level.

Lisa:                Children, adults, who is your audience?

John W.:         As I’ve mentioned, we have about 400 students that are enrolled now. We run three sessions through the year, fall, winter, and spring. About 75% of our students are under the age of 18, so a huge percentage is of kids who are interested in music and really that’s just part of what their growing up experience is.

We have 25%, plus or minus, that are adults. These are people who are professionals and come in after work. They will schedule being part of an ensemble or of a private lesson. I was one of those people when I started.

As a professional that is into music, you literally scheduled your week around that date. It became a really special time of the week that was very very sacred. That’s what a lot of our adult students are like.

Genevieve:    The community you’re building doesn’t only extend to your students, it also extends to your faculty. I mean, there’s some incredible names on your faculty list and 317 has become this home for them.

Amy, do you want to speak to that?

Amy:                Sure. I think that is something that is really unique about 317 that sets it apart from other venues to learn music is that you’re in a community of musicians, of people who are out working, playing gigs, creating music themselves, so it lends for a really vibrant, really dynamic environment for students of all ages.

Lisa:                Is there a performance aspect to the training that goes on at 317?

John W.:         Yeah, it’s really important. We focus on a couple of things up there. Group play is hugely important. When we started out, it was a lot of private lessons. I think that teachers were more comfortable teaching private lessons. Music is a lot more fun when you play with a group.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve really put an emphasis on group play. We’ve tried to establish a lot of different vehicles to get people involved in group play. Once you get comfortable playing in a group, then the next logical thing is to learn how to perform. We strongly emphasize that.

We have recitals that we offer during each sessions. We do a lot of outreach. In fact, we get a ton of calls from organizations around Portland who would loves to have music students play at their various functions. We’re constantly looking to put together ensembles and creating opportunities for our students to perform.

It’s part of the logical progression, and it’s really interesting to see students who first go from not knowing a chord to being able to stand on a stage and play in front of other people. It’s an amazingly powerful thing, and the energy the people get from doing that is wonderful.

Lisa:                I like this idea of group play. We think about playing music, and a lot of times music becomes so serious. It’s all about the lessons, the learning piano, and we all have these weird … I don’t know.

When I was in 5th grade, I had band anxiety because I was never as fast as the other flautists, but it’s play. We all have music in us. Is that something that resonates with you?

John W.:         It’s something that we’re very, very deliberate about at 317. We call ourselves a community music center as opposed to a school.

This is a place that we want people to come to relax and to get the full experience out of the music, not something that they dread, not something where they feel like they’re coming to work.

Obviously to progress in music, there is a commitment that’s involved in that, but we put a huge emphasis and premium on our teachers, and the whole experience is being one that is enjoyable and is very very relaxed.

I think we differentiate ourselves from a lot of music schools for that reason. We really want students to come and enjoy what they’re doing and it really is about play.

Lisa:                Your space reflects that. It’s a beautiful old house with gorgeous windows and tons of light and you also have a café. Amy, what else is there? There’s art on the walls.

Amy:                The café is open Monday-Thursday from two to six. We have a variety of healthy snacks for anybody who’s coming in after school or after work.

Lisa:                Anyone can come to the café. You don’t need to be a musician.

Amy:                Absolutely. Open to the public and you can hear some great music going on. We also do feature art exhibits several times a year from community artists. We host community events whenever we’re asked to do so and we can.

Lisa:                From what I understand, it’s not just people playing instruments? You also have voice at your center?

John W.:         We do. We teach a total of 11 instruments, voice being one of them. Our top instrument is piano, I think that’s about 30% of our population. Then guitar and voice is third. The voice program has really grown in the last couple of years, and we see that program continuing to grow.

We would like to do a lot with community choirs and community sing-a-long types of events which we’re in the process of thinking through.

Lisa:                When Genevieve and I were in Yarmouth interviewing Dr. Christiane Northrup, we had this sense that Yarmouth is this interesting draw-off for healers. I think it might be for music as well. My daughter’s in the chamber choir at the high school, my son was at the chamber choir at the high school.

Music, arts, drama, do you have that sense as well?

Amy:                I think so. I think there’s a really strong arts community as reflected in, I think there’s two or three arts organizations just in Yarmouth in terms of visual and performing arts, so I think that that’s true. It’s a creative group.

Genevieve:    You’re growing, right? You’re not just in Yarmouth anymore.

Amy:                That’s right. We have studios in Portland now, at Acoustic Artisans on Forest Avenue. We welcome new students in Portland for sure.

Lisa:                What is it about Maine that makes, in your opinions, art and music so important, so fundamental to life?

John W.:         It’s a really interesting dynamic. I think that we’re very fortunate here in Portland to have an incredibly strong and thriving arts community. An amazing array of musicians live in Portland.

It really wasn’t until we started the music center in Yarmouth and started to look around for talent that we realized how rich it is. I think that it’s only continuing to grow. Once we started 317, really nationally known musicians have come to Portland, and we feel very proud that 317 is part of what’s drawing people of that caliber to this area.

It’s a beautiful place to live, it’s more affordable than some of the other cities, yet it’s very accessible to some of the other cities. I think that the way I’ve observed it with musicians is once some move to an area, it attracts others. We’ve been really fortunate to be able to participate in that.

Lisa:                It seems as though, because on this show we have interviewed artists, architects, restaurant tours, cooks, and musicians. It just seems like we’re a people that likes to savor life. Do you find that in people who come in to take lessons or participate in the group play?

John W.:         I think we still have a ways to go. I’ve spent a ton of time in Europe and those people know how to embrace life. I think that we, as Northeasterners, as Yankees, are coming a long way in that area.

I think that just the Friday art walk that Portland has, the number of venues that attract amazing musicians, the organizations that are really focusing on the arts, the people that are supporting the arts, it’s a very very rich art community.

Genevieve:    You have a great event coming up, speaking of bringing people together.

Amy:                We do. Our biggest event of the year is called “HenryFest.” It’s a full day, family-oriented outdoor music festival that takes place in the fall. This year it’s going to be on Sunday, September 9th, from noon to seven at the very beautiful bucolic Skyline Farm in North Yarmouth.

It’s just a great day. It’s a full day of music. We’ve got some great bands already booked for this year. Lots of delicious, healthy local foods. Kids activities from face painting, games, costumes, story corners, all that kind of stuff.

It’s a great way for our whole community to come together. I think it’s a great fundraising event, because it’s so tied to who we are and what we are all about. It’s all ages, all abilities, at a low cost to come together and enjoy the day.

I mention it now in particular because it is our time to start attracting volunteers to come and plan this huge event. It takes many hands and we would welcome anybody who might be out there who wants to participate. We’d love to have you join our team.

Lisa:                How do people get in touch with you to do that?

Amy:                Can I give my email address?

Lisa:                Absolutely.

Amy:                Okay. It’s [email protected] We’d love to hear from you. Last year we actually had a huge crew of teenagers come, which worked out great. They got community service hours and we got the benefit of their enthusiasm.

If you’re a teen, or the parent of a teen, come in and volunteer together.

Lisa:                This is our “Healing with Sound” show. You work with a lot of kids and a lot of adults. What types of cognitive and developmental behavioral benefits have you noticed, whether it’s with children or adults, who have come through to take advantage of your services?

John W.:         There’s a lot of studies that have been published about the benefits of music. In fact, it’s amazing. I’m constantly looking at that material and seeing what the latest studies are.

The basic things that I have come across, it’s just amazing in terms of brain development in a younger person. Music just does a thing where it helps the brain develop in ways and create channels that aren’t otherwise necessarily developed. I think that that’s the technical reason.

I think that for us, what we try to do is to bring joy. When you come in the door, there’s a certain sense that we try to create and preserve at 317, which is a feeling of joy. It’s a happy place. We make a point of greeting everybody in a very focused way when they come in the door. Helping them feel like they belong to this community. Then when they get into the room, being able to joke around a little bit, make it fun, laugh, play.

I think for adults, it’s really about a place where they can come and kind of put down the worries of the day and really get into an environment that is relaxed and comfortable. Again, it’s about fun. That’s a huge premium that we put on everything that we do there.

Lisa:                When you find that people have the joy in their lives, are they able to better tackle the work in their lives? Are the kids more focused on their homework? Do adults find a greater ability to focus on what they “need to get done”?

John W.:         I think that that’s all true. I can just talk from my own experience when I’m practicing playing. It really requires you to turn off other parts of what may be chatter in your mind. That becomes almost a meditation.

I practice an hour a day. That really is my meditative time to really cancel everything else out and really just get into the moment and really put all of my energy and focus into that.

There’s also something about music, which is about time. There’s a time in that and I think that there’s a resonance in all of life that’s based on time, and music sort of puts you in touch with that.

Amy:                I would also say that there are a huge number of psychosocial benefits that come from the kids working collaboratively with each other. 317 runs a number of outreach programs to youth-oriented organizations with at-risk and disadvantaged youths.

I have seen firsthand the benefits of seeing these kids have a positive pure collaboration experience from the confidence that comes from skills, enjoying the mentoring relationship that they experience with their teachers, all of those types of softer benefits that maybe aren’t a part of their regular life, but really contribute to who they are and who they become.

Genevieve:    Kate spoke earlier about music, particularly for adolescents, being a way to have an emotional catharsis to express emotion in a safe and contained way. I would imagine that playing music, is that even more so…

Amy:                I was lucky enough just last night to go to a culmination performance at the Long Creek Youth Development Center where 317 has been leading some songwriting classes with some residents there. They played some amazing songs where they just let out all the same themes and same issues that every adolescent deals with, but just so beautifully and so profound, I was really impressed.

We went around the room afterwards and I just said to them, “What does this mean to you? What did this music and what did this class do for you?” One of them said, “It just gave us a chance to be real.” That really spoke to me.

Lisa:                I’m impressed with all the work that you’re doing and I know that it’s always interesting for me to drive by 317 Main and just know that there’s this midas of creative energy that’s occurring right in the middle of town.

You spoken about volunteers. What other ways can people get involved with 317 Main?

Amy:                We have youth student groups come in and we have adults come in. We would welcome you anytime from maintaining our beautiful historic building to helping out at our events.

Genevieve:    Donating money.

Amy:                Donating money always helps.

By all means if you have any interest, get in touch and we will talk to you and find out what your skill sets are and what you’re interested in getting out of it.

Genevieve:    How can people donate if they want to?

Amy:                You can donate securely online through PayPal at our website, which is

John W.:         Our website is pretty complete in terms of listing all of what we offer in our various programming. You can always call the front desk and either Jenny or Marie are there to take your call, are very friendly and answer your questions.

Reaching out to any of our instructors, all of our instructors. We have 22 on our staff and they’re all performing musicians. They perform around Portland a lot, so even just going up to them and introducing yourselves to them is great too.

Amy:                I would also just to add that for the first time this summer, we’re going to be offering one week summer camps which is a great way to get started. If you’re thinking about trying an instrument, they’re open to all ability levels. We can find a way to fit you into the band, so that’s something else to keep in mind.

Lisa:                Thank you so much for coming in and speaking with us today on our “Healing with Sound” show. We appreciate all the great work you’re doing up there in Yarmouth.

John W.:         Thanks so much for having us.

Amy:                Thank you.