Donors help keep the music playing at Foxcroft Academy

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Speaking this week with Dover-Foxcroft based musician/teacher, Susan Ramsey, I found out Foxcroft Academy’s String Program, which she directs, is a model other rural Maine communities can follow. From the start, I was surprised at the extent of FA’s overall music programs. But I especially could not fathom why the FA String Program was so popular.

I automatically associate high school violin, viola, cello, and acoustic bass studies with classical music. Ms. Ramsey reminds me there’s also Maine’s musical heritage from settlers “from across the pond,” who played “fiddle tunes” for entertainment, weddings, and funerals. Each generation has kids who remember, and love, the sound of those violins.

In 2008, FA’s Music Director Shane Ellis wanted an FA Symphony Orchestra and, said Ramsey, “really did a good thing for private music teachers in the community [by inviting] them…into the school. We were, kind of, specialists.” Ramsey and her community counterparts “provided FA advanced level teachers” in piano, brass, and string instruments.

Joshua Guthrie, current FA Music Director, is continuing Mr. Ellis’s policy, which also provides the community private music teachers an added measure of employment stability.

To help attract enough string students for that symphony orchestra, FA chose to “welcome any string players who want to come and work,” Ramsey said. This means some of Ramsey’s private students have a chance to play in the FA String Ensemble. Imagine trying to get better at playing baseball without ever having enough kids for team practice. Learning to play in harmony with other string players (ensemble) is like that.

Then the FA String Program Ensemble got even better. FA boarding students, already pretty well trained in strings, participated. But, Susan said, “Some kids with the motivation, the talent, the natural ability, the drive, [couldn’t] afford private instruction.” When they showed up for ensemble practice, these kids struggled to keep up with their counterparts, over aspects of violin playing a private instructor could easily have resolved prior to ensemble practice.

Enter Hope Lacourciere (FA Class of ’46). “A sharp cookie, wonderful woman, a mentor of mine,” said Ramsey. Hope Lacourciere also noticed these talented, struggling kids and told Susan, “I think I’m going to go do something about that.” Hope Fund was set up with a modest annual donation making all the difference in the world to string students who want to play in the FA String Ensemble.

Hope Fund, said Susan, “benefited me in two ways. All the kids in my ensemble class were playing at the same level. More or less.” Mrs. Lacourciere has passed on, but her family holds annual horseshoe tournaments with proceeds dedicated to the musical Hope Fund, which is helping “kids from large families, home schooled kids. They’re great students, eager to learn,” said Susan.

Ramsey said Hope Lacourciere is one of three “angels” in her life. Another angel is the late Mrs. Marjorie Chase. Ramsey became “good friends” with Mrs. Chase and her husband, Bob, while performing concerts at Dirigo Pines Retirement Community in Orono, where the Chases lived.

After Mrs. Chase died, her family set up a fund through Maine Community Foundation to help the String Program. Both funds are a welcome measure of stability for musician/teacher Susan Ramsey, and to help the next generation of Maine kids who love the sound of the violin.

Ramsey said, the busy, working parents who “still make time to get their kids to these [music] events — are angels. It’s really quite beautiful.

“I’m so thankful for [Hope Lacourciere and Marjorie Chase]. They realized funding for the arts, and funding for a little String Program, is just about impossible. [Yet], they saw something they felt was worth supporting,” Susan Ramsey said.

Susan Ramsey can be reached by email:

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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