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Give Back NH: Ashuelot Concerts bring live chamber music to area schools

Nicholas Burns and Louisa Stonehill taking questions from elementary students at Harrisville School
Ashuelot Concerts
Nicholas Burns and Louisa Stonehill taking questions from elementary students at Harrisville School

Give Back New Hampshire is a bi-weekly segment that spotlights New Hampshire nonprofit organizations. It airs every other Monday during Morning Edition.

You can nominate a local nonprofit for Give Back NH by emailing us at

Every other Monday we feature Give Back New Hampshire, NHPR's series that highlights nonprofit organizations in the Granite State.

Today, we take a closer look at Ashuelot Concerts in Keene, whose founders believe music can act as a powerful force for good in the community.

The following is a transcription of this week's segment:

Nicholas Burns: Classical music traditionally exists in a very small space. So my name is Nick Burns. I'm the executive and artistic director of Ashuelot Concerts.

We want to foster a culture here where everyone knows what classical music is, why it's special, and the power that it can have. And so we have a concert series. We have wonderful artists coming from all over the world to participate.

They understand the emotion in the music, and then when they hear it, they follow it right along.
Erik Kress, Principal of Franklin Elementary in Keene

But much more importantly— before every concert, we visit local schools, and we take part of the program what you would normally hear at Carnegie Hall. We take that and we take it into a local classroom.

Louisa Stonehill: One of the things that we like to do in our school workshops is we like to talk to the children. We have different themes that we use.

Hi, my name is Louisa Stonehill and I am the artistic and program director of Ashuelot Concerts.

And so we'll talk to them about Mozart, for example. If we play a piece of Mozart and we talk to them about how Mozart wasn't just born talented, he had a very, very strict father who was his teacher. And of course, that came from weeks, days, months, years of hard work. And of course, that ends up being his success. So whenever we say to the children we don't believe in talent, there's a kind of a gasp in the room where they will laugh and they go, What? What? And that just resonates with the kids. You know, you make it very human. You make these composers very, very human.

A note from an inspired student
Ashuelot Concerts
A note from an inspired student

Erik Kress: So my name is Erik Kress, the principal of Franklin Elementary School right here in Keene, New Hampshire.

And our students, let's face it, our students are not going to shows in Boston or New York... or even our own Colonial Theater right here in Keene, New Hampshire. They don't have access to see any professional concert. So any time that a musician can connect to what they're playing, to be able to describe it to students from the kindergarten level to the fifth grade level— that's their sweet spot right there, because the kids understand what they're listening to. They understand the emotion in the music, and then when they hear it, they follow it right along.

Burns: The older the kids are, often the more daunting it is for us as musicians to go. And it's like going walking into the lion's den.

And with a high school group, we were playing Elgar's Violin Sonata from 1918. Elgar was writing this right at the end of the World War One. I challenged them: Imagine that every male member of fighting age of their family was gone and they had either died, or you didn't know where they were. And a pandemic comes along.

And it's not just like we've experienced. It's exponentially worse because it's affecting young people, much more so. And the Elgar Sonata is a tribute to a dear friend who died. And the movement that we played ends with just the violin on a single note, right at the end, just alone.

And when we looked up at the end, you know, the alpha male in the group is, you know, rapidly wiping his eyes, you know, in case anyone should see that, you know, he's he's welled up, welled up . And, you know, it's very touching to know that music can have that effect directly first time.

Performing at Stonehill Farm in Keene
Ashuelot Concerts
Performing at Stonehill Farm in Keene

Stonehill: So there's lots of ways that you can get involved. The concert seriesitself is absolutely wonderful and we love, love our audience— and we love bringing it to our audience. But really what we want is for people to support the school's programas well, so that they can see the impact that it's having on the children and the benefits that it brings them.

Before becoming Program Director, Quirk served as NHPR's production manager. During that time she's voiced and crafted the 'sound of the station,' coordinated countless on-air fundraisers, produced segments for Give Back NH, Something Wild, New Hampshire Calling, and developed NHPR's own NHPR Music vertical with features such as Live from Studio D, and long-loved favorites like Holidays By Request.
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