A musician can make a big difference in a community

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When I first started writing for this newspaper, I browsed the internet for Piscataquis County music teachers, wondering, “Are musicians making a living in Piscataquis? If so, how?”

Turns out, the musician I was looking for is Susan Ramsey. While I discovered, and was impressed with, Foxcroft Academy’s (FA) music programs, I did not connect with Ms. Ramsey until last week. She directs the FA String Program among her several other musical endeavors. And if not for down time needed to mend a knee, Susan and I may have never met.

“Honestly, I run from gig to gig, and this is the longest I’ve been home for, like, two years. I never spend this much time in my house,” she told me.

I first heard and saw Susan perform on her violin several years ago with Dave Mallett’s band at the Gracie Theater in Bangor. There were moments where she was improvising short melodies in call-and-response fashion to Mr. Mallett’s singing. This is a common interaction with musicians. What stuck with me was that Susan was uncommonly good at inventing memorable music lines.

“David asked me to do some recording on his album, Artist in Me, in 2003, and I reluctantly agreed to it,” Susan said. The recording was fun, but when Mallett asked her to “play a few songs” with him onstage — Susan’s reluctance returned. Her extensive classical music education had not prepared Susan to wing it onstage with a folksinger.

She told Mallet, ”I read music. I’m one of those uptight, stiff classical musicians.” Her degree from Smith College is in Music Performance, specializing in Baroque Period chamber orchestra music.

He said, ‘No, you can do this.’ And after a while I just really, really enjoy it. He’s taught me a lot,” Ramsey said. David Mallett “kind of brought me into the performing world in Piscataquis County, and then [with] his band…all over…Maine.”

Susan Ramsey said Mallett got “me out of my head, out of the books, loosened me up, and got me to improvise and make up parts.”

Drive from Newport to Greenville and you see a number of places — even homes — operating as more than one business. You might see fresh eggs for sale, hay for sale, and small engine repairs at one stop.

So it is with Susan Ramsey’s music. In addition to David Mallett and Foxcroft Academy, for example, Susan runs North Country Strings Music Studio where, as of this writing, about 32 students, ages 8 to 94 (“…when you’re young at heart.”) come to Dover-Foxcroft for lessons from as far afield as Hartland, Charleston, and Athens.

“Word of mouth is my biggest form of advertising,” said Susan. “I’m kind of a known quantity. I’ve been here for 28 years. My affiliation with [Foxcroft] Academy has helped. But the other thing is, people see me at concerts. They hear me play. Then at the meet and greet after the gig, someone might say, ‘My daughter’s always wanted to take lessons. Do you offer lessons?”’

In my 30-plus years in Maine I can’t recall meeting a more enthusiastic ambassador for Piscataquis County. Whether she’s discussing playing with her North Country Strings classical duo, or trio, or “big band” with eight adult string players plus up to 20 student singers and string players; or sharing names of local Grange Halls, Opera Houses, and churches “we’re so lucky to have” for their historic architecture and beautiful acoustics; or the “[gorgeous] wealth of music indigenous to Piscataquis County” (Irish, Scottish, English, Finnish, Quebecois) Susan Ramsey is alive with wonder.

One column can simply introduce readers to Susan Ramsey. I look forward to devoting more columns to her wealth of musical projects.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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