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Music Academy Opens Online Courses With Expanded Programming
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
07:28AM / Sunday, February 14, 2021
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The Berkshire music academy connects well-known musicians with local students. The pandemic has lead to expanded online programming.

ADAMS, Mass. — COVID-19 won't mute the Berkshires Academy for Advanced Musical Studies as the music school recently announced expanded virtual offerings.
 
Executive Director Richard Boulger has not missed a beat throughout the novel coronavirus lockdown and was happy to say "eBAAMs" enrollment is open.
 
"We are committed to offering free access to eBAAMS ... we can work with children from anywhere," Boulger said. "I am thrilled to be back in the Berkshires after living in New York for 20-plus years and am very proud to bring with me a world-class music faculty to help Berkshire County kids."
 
The music academy was announced in 2019 and Boulger, a North Adams native and professional jazz trumpet player, planned to bring world-class musicians to the county to teach in the academy. 
 
Donald Sommer, a local business owner, had his own part to play and redeveloped the former St. Mark's Episcopal Church to create the Olga C. Sommer Center for Music & Art. The renovation was largely completed in 2020, and Sommer planned to lease the building to BAAMS to house the music academy.
 
This was obviously delayed by the pandemic with the playing of wind instruments considered one of the riskier activities in terms of the transmission of COVID-19.
 
BAAMS found creative solutions. It held the summer jazz camp outdoors and continued to refine eBAAMS -- its online academy.
 
Also in the summer of 2020, Sommer announced that he purchased the former First Baptist Church right down the street from St. Mark's on Commercial Street. At the time, he saw the acquisition as a possible expansion of the Sommer Center.
 
Boulger said the prospect of expanding BAAMS is an exciting idea, but the future of the building is still unknown at this point in time.
 
"I believe the former First Baptist Church has huge potential," he said. "Until a feasibility study has been performed and reviewed, it's next to impossible for me to guess how much work must be done for the Baptist church to become a useable space."
 
That being said, Boulger said he was excited to begin in-person learning at the former St. Mark's, the only church in which BAAMS has a lease agreement, when public health data allows.
 
"The key for BAAMS will be to ensure we have a building that provides multiple teaching studios, a recording studio, broadcast capabilities, and a world-class performance space for our students, faculty and special guest performances," Boulger said. "In the meantime, we are extremely excited by the success of our after-school online programming through eBAAMS, which offers free online access to young music students ages from anywhere in Berkshire County."
 
eBAAMS offers live-streamed music lessons for ages 12-18 as well as a library of original play-along tracks and musical exercises.
 
"I'm very excited to be working with BAAMS both as a saxophone, woodwinds and improvisation instructor as well as serving as BAAMS' co-musical director,"  Alex Foster, saxophonist for the Saturday Night Live Band.
 
Boulger said BAAMS gives students access to lessons in improvisation, saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass, guitar, and drums. He said staff teaches his own HTF Learning System.
 
"I have created HTF after a lifetime of private study and working closely with master musicians," Boulger said. "It is based on the idea that one's musical instrument is actually an amplifier for what one is hearing, thinking and feeling. Once our students know how to convey what they hear, think, and feel musically, suddenly you've got a whole new, positive outlet for kids to express themselves."
 
Boulger said there will be additions to eBAAMS. Programming will expand to recording technology and a "virtual coffee house" studio and stage where students can upload and share their own inspired performances with faculty and fellow students. 
 
The academy is also in the beginning stages of launching online music learning for adult students.
 
"We are currently developing BAAMS' Premier which will offer online music learning to adults," he said. "We realize there is a demand for what we offer among many adult aspiring, amateur, or professional musicians."
 
Boulger said folks can continue to support BAAMS through donations. Donations are exclusively for programming expenses. 
 
"We are grateful to all of the individuals who have supported us with donations as well as volunteer labor and expertise from key members of our support team," Boulger said.
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