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New stage for music and drama at Mohawk

Recorder/Paul Franz
Scott Halligan is the new Musical Director at Mohawk Trail Regional School.

Recorder/Paul Franz Scott Halligan is the new Musical Director at Mohawk Trail Regional School.

BUCKLAND — The first thing Scott Halligan did this school year, as Mohawk’s new music director, was clean house. Mohawk’s music room got a good going over, and now Halligan is making room for a new strings program and a jazz band to be part of Mohawk’s musical line-up.

The first Mohawk Trail Regional School concert, under Halligan’s direction, takes place on Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m. in the Mohawk auditorium. The holiday concert will feature several Mohawk music ensembles, and it’s free to the public.

Halligan, a cellist who knows how to play about 20 stringed instruments, woodwinds and horns, received a master’s degree in music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He was a graduate student when he first saw a Double Edge Theatre performance and started working with the eclectic Ashfield-based theater group in 2008. He said he spent his last academic year commuting between Ashfield and Boston.

Halligan also led a children’s music program at Tufts Medical Center’s behavioral health unit in Boston, before moving to western Massachusetts, to work with Double Edge and to teach music.

Now living in Goshen, Halligan, 32, said he was a substitute music teacher at Sanderson Academy and for other Mohawk schools. Last year, he was the music director for Turners Falls High School.

“Working at Double Edge was really exciting and invigorating,” said Halligan. “A lot of the work tapped into a latent, creative intelligence that is musical and physical — and that way of working has crept into my teaching.”

Halligan is starting an elective, stringed-instrument program at Mohawk, with the help of “Strings for Kids,” a program of Artspace Community Arts Center and Greenfield Public Schools. The program has loaned the Mohawk music department five violins and three cellos to help get the new program off the ground. Halligan said he’s researching grants that may make it possible for Mohawk to acquire its own instruments in the future.

Another of Halligan’s goals is to resurect Mohawk’s jazz band, an ensemble that ceased in recent years when student enrollment dropped, Halligan said.

Mohawk’s new drama director, Jonathan Diamond, has also worked with Double Edge Theatre, and has directed innovative plays at the Heath Elementary School in recent years.

Diamond and Halligan are planning a performance of “The Hobbit,” as this spring’s school play, and have already had casting workshops for the roles.

“Since this program is in transition, we’re capitalizing on the buzz of (being) new, and are using this way of working as inspired by Double Edge,” Halligan said. “But we’ve promised the (school) families that we will also be doing the traditional musicals,” he said.

In cleaning up the music room, Halligan says he’s taken stock of what the music department has and its needs.

He would like to purchase some music stands, and have the piano in the auditorium repaired or replaced. He said he would also like to put acoustical shell panels in the auditorium, to improve sound projection.

Halligan said the school’s sheet-music library could better organized, using stacks to store the music, instead of the bulkier filing cabinets.

One of his goals is to boost parent participation in the Mohawk Music Association, especially since the youngest children of many existing MMA members will be graduating this spring.

Another goal, he said, is to create more collaboration within the community, for performances that might involve students from more than one school.

“I want to give my students the tools to be self-reliant musicians, where they can write their own music, rehearse in their own bands, where they can call up Mocha Maya’s (coffeehouse) and set up their own gigs.”

“I want them to have real-world skills as musicians — which apply to the real world, too. Just to live your life is a great creative endeavor. It’s a great improvisation,” he said.

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