A new music academy will call Adams churches 'home'

State Sen. Adam Hinds, left, and Don Sommer stand inside First Baptist Church in Adams on Friday, which eventually will serve as part of the physical campus for the Berkshires' Academy for Advanced Music Studies.

ADAMS — Two old church buildings soon will serve as the physical home of a new music school in Adams.

Don Sommer acknowledges that the Berkshires' Academy for Advanced Music Studies is an ambitious project, but it's one that he believes his hometown needs.

"You can't just tear these old buildings down," said Sommer, a co-founder of BAAMS, which will serve Berkshire residents ages 12 to 18. "They're part of the community."

BAAMS leaders hosted state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, on Friday for a tour of its campus in Adams. Along with BAAMS faculty members and a few community members, they visited the building that once housed St. Mark's Episcopal Church before stopping by the former home of First Baptist Church, which Sommer said was acquired earlier Friday.

At the heart of the push is a vision for "a new kind of economy" for Berkshire County, one that revolves around culture and nature.

"This idea is no crazier than a guy named Koussevitzky in Lenox who said, `Let's draw the best musicians in the world here,'" Barrett said, alluding to the founding of Tanglewood, which brings in 350,000 visitors in a typical, nonpandemic year.

"It will bring people here," Hinds said. "You can feel the growth and the energy."

BAAMS, which is set to start its first semester this fall, will begin remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will offer free livestreamed lessons, a library of play-along tracks, and a site where students can upload and share their performances with each other and with BAAMS faculty.

"We understood that this is a tough time and wanted to do our best to accommodate people," said Richard Boulger, a trumpet player and North Adams native who co-founded BAAMS.

The hope, though, is for faculty eventually to give lessons in the churches that BAAMS has acquired.

Part of what will make BAAMS so special, Sommer said, is the talent and passion of the faculty.

"These aren't five or six guys who just said, `Let's make a music school,'" Sommer said. "These are people who have played in some of the biggest bands in the country."

Boulger and William Kolis, the third BAAMS co-founder, have held a free summer jazz camp each year since 2018.

Victor Jones, BAAMS' drum and percussion instructor, splits his time between residences in New Jersey and Copenhagen, Denmark. But, this summer, he came from Copenhagen to Adams to teach at the summer camp, and he's now looking forward to the fall.

"I had to come back for this," Jones said. "It's great. The kids are great. The town is great. We're just grooving."

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle's Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.