Phyllis McGuire | View from the Village: BART instructor opens young minds to music

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WILLIAMSTOWN — James Bergin is one of those fortunate people who is living his dream.

"I'm a music teacher at BART," the North Adams resident said in reply to my question about what "Director" emblazoned on his sweatshirt stood for.

"I'm happy sharing my intensive love of music with someone else," said Bergin, who is also a private instructor of viola, violin, guitar and bass as well as a professional artist with the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra and a substitute with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

Having learned to play violin as a sixth-grader in a public school, Bergin has come full circle as a music teacher at Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams, which serves students in Grades 6 through 12.

He remembers his parents playing classical and show tunes in the house.

"I learned to love music mostly playing it, and listening to records in my parents' collection," he said. Then he spoke of those he emulates, "I am grateful to the public school teachers I had all through elementary and high school who loved music and cared very much about sharing it with their students."

Music is an elective subject at BART, and between 60 and 70 of the 350 students in the school enroll in music classes. The curriculum is a combination of classical, pop and world music as well as songs that students suggest.

"I teach them to describe music, instead of just saying `I like it,' or `It's stupid,' pointing out that not everyone has the same taste in music; something is not stupid just because you don't like it. Respect," Bergin said. "They need to learn the vocabulary. `Tell me about the rhythm or pitch,' I say."

Modern technology has made many different types of music available, literally at our fingertips. Bergin explained that now we can access YouTube online and listen to Korean Pop and other music we otherwise might never hear.

"Students are doing amazing things," said Bergin, who has introduced his kids to Apple's GarageBand app. "Fifteen are learning to compose and assemble their own music."

When asked what he finds most satisfying in his job, Bergin said. "Different things, I guess — I like helping identify gifts students might have and enabling them to grow those gifts. I was stunned when I heard a sixth-grade student sing.`Where did that (lovely sound) come from?' "

Whether or not students make a career in music, Bergin feels that his efforts have been fruitful if they enjoy music as well as play music.

"Not to just have it as a career but to like it, too," he said.

Providing students and adult amateurs with an opportunity to make music side by side, Bergin founded the Community Intergenerational Action Orchestra. They rehearse in Williamstown at St. John's Episcopal Church every Wednesday and at Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing Center monthly.

Rehearsing at Sweet Brook has twofold benefits: The residents take pleasure in listening to the live music.

"The students see how music affects people, and gain experience playing music for an audience," Bergin said.

The orchestra gives two concerts each year at St. John's to raise money for local and international causes.

Now, rehearsals are underway for BART's production of the musical comedy "The Addams Family." Berger and drama directors are collaborating to prepare the high students, Grades 10 - 12, to bring the musical to BART's stage.

The show is choreographed by an 11th grade student who is "very advanced in dance."

"One of the seniors has just been accepted in the theater program at Mary Mount College. She wants to do (professional theater) in a BIG way," Bergin said.

The Addams Family will be presented on May 25 and 26.

"In the summer," Bergin said, "I recharge my batteries."

Phyllis McGuire writes from her home in Williamstown. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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