The Portland Conservatory of Music faculty concert fundraiser on March 5 was a much like a house-warming party for the community music school’s new home at 28 Neal St. in the West End.

“After 26 years of supporting the Greater Portland area, we are proud to have our own home,” said Executive Director Jean Murachanian.

The conservatory had been a tenant of Woodfords Congregational Church for 12 years, until there was a boiler break and resulting flood in November 2020, and it moved out. Not long after that, of course, came the pandemic and online classes.

“It was one thing after another,” said former executive director K.E. Smith, a board member from Portland. “It was a godsend when a woman donated a million dollars to buy this building.”

Parish Presbyterian Church hosted its final service on Neal Street last Easter, and within weeks, the conservatory purchased the church building with the help of the anonymous donation. Fast-forward almost a year to the faculty concert – the first major fundraising event it’s held since the flood, the pandemic and the move, which involved relocating 15 pianos.

A dozen faculty performed in the sanctuary-turned-concert hall, including Eleanor Lehmann on violin and her daughter-in-law, Kimberly Lehmann, on viola in their first duet. Another highlight was pianist Jesse Feinberg performing his Eastern European-inspired compositions “Shalom Aleichem” and “Freedom,” written in 2021 but first performed within days of the attack on Ukraine.

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“Tonight was uplifting to the soul,” said board president Steve Clayman. “We are coming out of the pandemic stronger than we went into it. And we want to make sure that any student in Portland who wants music education can get it, regardless of income.”

From ticket sales, donations and corporate sponsorships from Wright-Ryan Construction, Genesan/Clean-O-Rama and TRSS Wealth Management, the event raised $16,000.

Piano instructor Rachel Herzer of Freeport was presented with the Carol Eaton Elowe Faculty Award for her dedication to her students throughout the pandemic, keeping them engaged and learning through lockdowns and remote learning.

“I’ve been thinking about how wonderful it has been to be here tonight, to have come through the past two years and to be on the other side,” said Herzer, who received a $500 prize. “The conservatory is so student-centered, which I appreciate. And they’re so supportive of the faculty.”

Logan Peters, a 16-year-old from Falmouth who has played piano half of his life, said that when he started taking lessons with conservatory instructor Naydene Bowder in 2020, something clicked.

“I was able to get a better understanding of music with a great teacher,” he said. “And I started to think this could be something I can do for my life.”

For more information about the school and its programs, go to portlandconservatoryofmusic.org.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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