When the composer Robert Sirota retired as president of the Manhattan School of Music in 2012, he began spending more time at what had been his family’s vacation home on Muzzy Ridge in Searsmont, a dozen miles inland from Belfast. He came up to Maine from New York to write as often as he could, with a goal of someday living year-round in the “hippie house” that he and his wife, an Episcopal priest, had purchased in 1986 on 10 acres of rocky, forested farmland.

Someday always seemed so far away.

They improved and expanded the house over 35 years, including adding a studio where Sirota has written much of the symphonic, choral and chamber music that has made him a sought-after and highly regarded composer. But the lives of an itinerant musician and itinerant priest kept the couple on the move far from the blueberry barrens of Searsmont — from Boston, where they lived when they bought the property, to professional postings in New Haven, Baltimore and New York, where their careers flourished. When they lived 600 miles away in Maryland, Maine was no longer a weekend getaway.

Someday happened this summer, when the Rev. Sirota retired as priest and concert organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Yonkers, New York, and the couple moved home to Maine.


But retirement is more concept than practice. Sirota, 71, is moving ahead with the inaugural season of a chamber concert series, Muzzy Ridge Concerts, with two performances this month in the 800-square-foot studio where he composes his music. The studio, which he built a decade ago to match the slanted-wall design of the contemporary home, can accommodate about 40 people. It’s an open space with vaulted ceilings, a piano and organ, and “a perfect intimate venue for chamber music,” he said. “It sounds great in there, and it opens up to the blueberry fields behind us. We have a stone porch, and people can sit out there and listen, as well.”


Concerts are scheduled for 3 p.m. Aug. 15 and Aug. 22, with different programs and a different group of musicians for each. Each concert will last about an hour without intermission, and everyone who buys a ticket is expected to be vaccinated.

Concert host Robert Sirota described Carol Wincenc as a “rock-star flutist.” She joins the concert series Aug. 15. Photo by Burkart Flutes Jovani

Cellist Velleda Miragias performs Aug. 15. Photo by Robert Torres.

He invited friends from New York and Boston to come up and play music they chose collaboratively. Grammy Award-nominated flutist Carol Wincenc and cellist Velléda Miragias will join Sirota on piano on Aug. 15 for a diverse program that includes a Bach flute sonata, a Haydn piano trio, a pair of pieces by Debussy and a selection from Sirota’s “Broken Pieces,” which he wrote in 2016 for flute and cello. The concert on Aug. 22 features his friends Laurie Carney, a founding member of the American String Quartet, on violin and David Friend on piano. Among the pieces they will perform is Sirota’s “Summermusic,” which he wrote in 2000.

Sirota called this year’s concert series a beta test. “I am hoping we can do this every summer. What I realized is, I spent three decades putting on concerts and producing concerts in various places. Doing it myself at this point is a labor of love. You can control the circumstances and invite the people you want.”

Sirota’s musical career is deep and wide. He was directing Boston University’s School of Music when the young couple bought the house in Maine 35 years ago, then moved to New Haven, where the Rev. Sirota taught sacred music at Yale Divinity School and he worked as department chair of music and performing arts professions at New York University. They were off to Baltimore for a decade beginning in 1995, where he directed the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and then to New York in 2005, where he served as president of the Manhattan School of Music from 2005 until his retirement nearly a decade ago.

Since then, he’s been itching to get up to Maine.

“This has been our lodestar place for most of our marriage. This is where we raised our kids,” Sirota said last week, sounding relieved as he unpacked boxes from the move. The kids, Jonah and Nadia, both now grown, are professional musicians, as well. They were renting in Brookline when they bought the house. They knew their careers would take them away, and they wanted to put down roots somewhere. “We were looking to buy a permanent vacation home, if you will. We were looking to buy some property,” he said.

They looked to Maine and found what he described as a passive solar “hippie house” on a large plot of land with a lot of privacy. It was the perfect retreat, far away from work with lots of quiet, reflective time. “It was kind of rickety and we had no money, and we spent a lot of time fixing it up. And when we finally got some money, then we really fixed it up,” Sirota said.

Robert Sirota will host a concert series in an 800-square-foot studio at his home in Searsmont. Photo by Robert Sirota

In a part of Maine where centuries-old farmhouses are the norm, the Sirotas’ mid-century contemporary home — “that crazy modern house,” as some folks refer to it — stands out. It sits off a quiet rural road that runs past Lowry Pond. They have a handful of neighbors but mostly share the ridge with deer, wild turkey, numerous species of birds “and the occasional moose, black bear, and coyote,” Sirota said in a press release announcing the concert series. “Our home sits on a gently sloping parcel on the eastern side of Muzzy Ridge. It is in this setting that I have composed many works in the past 35 years.”

The past decade has been particularly productive. He estimated he had written 100 works in his career, 25 of them since his retirement — and many of them in Maine. The goal of this series is to share his love of music and his passion for place.

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