By Anne Easter Smith
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Musical Suite has hummed along harmoniously in the Newburyport community for 25 years.
Over those years, its six studios have welcomed many hundreds of experienced and novice musicians of all ages to express themselves on piano, strings, woodwinds, brass and guitar, or in song.
Wielding the baton since she opened the music school in 1989, Nancy Hayes, a Juilliard-trained violinist, has poured her passion and business acumen into what its regulars fondly call The Suite.
But after 38 years of teaching, the word “retirement” struck a chord, and Hayes has decided to pass the baton on to a new generation.
“I am excited to announce that Zach Field and I recently reached an agreement, and as of Jan. 1, 2014, he will be the new owner of The Musical Suite,” Hayes said.
Field is the owner of Zach Field Drum Studios, two zig-zags away from The Suite down the Tannery corridor. “This is not a merger,” he said. “The two schools will be operated separately.
“Nothing will change at The Suite except the owner’s name on the letterhead,” Field said. “I don’t want to change the business or teaching model; I want to build on its success.” He added that current Suite administrative director Chuck Walker would continue in his position.
The school has thrived ever since Hayes’ first-year student body of four blossomed into 60 by year’s end. Today’s tally is approximately 300. It is estimated that the Musical Suite has served more than 1,000 families in its 25-year history. Even during the recent recession, when Hayes feared arts instruction would be the first item in people’s budgets to be cut, “We did not see any drop in our student registration,” she said. “It says a lot for the community’s faith in the school and in having music in their lives.”
Field agreed. “My business grew during the recession. When the schools cut the arts programs, music students flocked to both our studios.” He began giving lessons privately in 1999 and opened his own school at the Tannery in 2008.
“I know what it takes to build a music school. It is more than just the lessons; it is your connection with the community and to the students and their families that counts,” Field said. “Nancy has always demanded a very high quality of teaching and understands the balance between great musicianship and the ability to pass it on to others.”
Hayes began playing the violin at age 10, and soon gained her entry into the weekend program at Juilliard in New York City. She still plays regularly with the Boston Civic Symphony, but it was when she started teaching the instrument that she found her true calling, she said.
“The vast number of students I taught always gave me back more than I gave them. It was they who taught me how to teach,” she said. “The role of a teacher is to inspire and open students’ minds to learning.”
Having been intimidated by Juillard’s rigid teaching method and monthly juried recitals, Hayes was determined to offer musical training in a more nurturing environment — and to nurture young talent and not alienate it. She placed the focus on hiring top-notch musicians who also loved to teach.
Some of the world-class artists who have passed on their knowledge to Newburyport students include rising-star jazz-pianist Vardan Ovsepian; renowned percussionist Sylvie Zakarian, who made her U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall in 1996; current voice teachers Alleyn Gamble, who has headlined in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and tenor, Neil Ferreira, who is soloist with the Boston Lyric Opera; classical guitarist John Tavano, and bass guitarist Joe Holaday, a member of the popular local band Beatlejuice.
But it is Suite stalwarts like Malgosia Smolarek who lend continuity to the school’s 17-member faculty roster.
As a new immigrant from Poland 14 years ago, Smolarek said she will always be grateful to Hayes for hiring her when she could only speak a few words of English. “Nancy inspires a commitment among the teachers here,” she said. “She has always been able to attract very qualified and educated musicians, and we are all devoted to our students. She is a very warm person, and we feel like a family.”
“Zach is a musical force in our community, and I see the same passion in him that I had in me when I started the school all those years ago,” Hayes said.