Student of the Month

This season’s student spotlight is Seth Boudreau, high school senior and student of Amy Matherly.  Seth first came to Pakachoag as part of our Music Together program all the way back in 2005 age 1!  He began violin lessons in 2009, age 5.  As part of the School’s Suzuki program, Seth began lessons with Sheila Reid and a few years later continued with Dr. Leah Zelnick.  With schedule challenges and teacher transitions, Seth eventually landed with Amy Matherly.

What do you like about your lessons?

I’ve had Mrs. Matherly as my primary violin instructor for most of the years that I have been there, [at Pakachoag].  What I enjoy most about my lessons with Mrs. Matherly is her style and acceptance for the variety of pieces that I like to play and perform. She has always encouraged and allowed me to experiment with different styles of music. I have frequently switched from Fiddle style music to Jazz to Classical and she is always willing to work it into my lesson.  I have played in many Middle and High School performances, and she helped me practice the pieces that I would be playing.

Do you have a favorite piece?

Fall 2019: Pre-pandemic. Sophomore Year, with fiddler friends.

It is challenging to pick a single favorite song out of all the different pieces I have played. However, I am excited [to be performing soon] the Bach Double Violin Concerto with a group of students and teachers from the school.

Do you have other interests outside of music?

As a student who has always been busy with club and High School sports and would often come from sports activities, such as soccer or track practices and games, directly to violin rehearsals and concerts, it has made it challenging to keep up with music.  But ultimately, I’m glad I have stuck with it and continued my lessons with Mrs. Matherly, especially since they are now in person again. Music has been a big part of my life ever since I started at 5 years old, and I am glad that I have continued to grow through my violin playing at Pakachoag Music School.

You are a high school senior this year.  What comes next?

After High School, I plan to attend college and will major in Computer Science.  I am currently looking at my options for college.   I am currently taking an Advanced Placement Music Theory course in High School that I enjoy very much and may continue when I am in college.

From Teacher Amy Matherly: Working with Seth

Seth and I have fun working on a wide variety of musical styles including fiddle, classical and jazz.  He loves music that is flashy and dramatic. Pakachoag recital audiences have been treated to his performances of pieces like Csardas and Funky Hippo along with years of appearances with the Fiddle Band. He is a true music lover who participates in jazz band, show pit band and music theory classes at school.  I have enjoyed watching him learn and grow over the past 10 years.


Dear Seth, we love that you have been able to take AP theory and ensembles at School; and been involved for so long here at Pakachoag.  As I reflect back on the pictures at top of page – wow.  I remember you had taken a year or so off at one point.  I think I remember your mom saying you were begging her to come back — you realized you were missing violin [and perhaps us too]. 

I sincerely congratulate you on sticking with your music for so long while juggling sports and academics.  You have reached the 10 year milestone for lessons recently which means you join a select group of students who have reached “10”.  We wish you much success as you prepare for this next stage of life.   I hope you will continue to make and find friends in music. 

 Sincerely, your friends in music, Sarah S., ED and all at Pakachoag.

Sophia from Sutton, Voice and Guitar

This month’s student spotlight is Sophia Maloney.  Sophia takes voice lessons with Silvia Irving and guitar lessons with Jeff Dostal.

What Does Sophia Particularly Like about Lessons?

The thing that excites Sophia the most about her lessons is learning to play and sing the songs that she loves. Combining her guitar and voice skills she has acquired over the years, Sophia says it has been fun to learn songs by the many different artists she enjoys, from indie rock to musical theatre!

How Have you Grown with Music?

Sophie prepares to sing at a December 2014 performance class. Year 3 of lessons.

Sophia’s mom says, “Sophia has grown tremendously.”  During her first lessons, Sophia remembers feeling a bit overwhelmed, but also felt comfortable to ask questions and to try her best.   When she was in middle school, Sophie says “it felt like a pain” to practice.  More recently, as a high school student, through her perseverance, Sophie has developed a love and passion for music, and is consistently self-motivated, practicing almost every day now for a number of years.

On Remote Lessons During COVID…

In 2020, Sophie continued her musical education through remote lessons. One of her most memorable remote lessons was with her guitar teacher Jeff:  “Jeff and I were both trying to play a song together that I had brought in. We were able to time it out in a way that we were playing a song at the same time going around the lag on zoom. Although it was difficult it worked in the end!”

Sophie looks forward to moving back to in-person lessons.  She says online classes have their benefits, like not having to drive, but “nothing compares to being able to make music with someone in person”, and we couldn’t agree more, Sophie!

Is there anything you have learned in your lessons that helps you in other situations?

Student Recital 2019

One outstanding point that Sophie makes is that “a big part of music is advocating for yourself and and sharing your thoughts, and that has absolutely helped me to speak my mind in group settings”.

As of spring 2021, Sophie has been enrolled for 10 years!  Becoming a musician doesn’t happen overnight.  Along the way – no matter whether year 1 or year 10 – the lessons we learn last for life.  What a thrill that Sophie has been doing this long enough to be able to learn some of the more challenging lessons that transfer from music to other settings.  Congratulations Sophie!

Dylan from Auburn, Age 12.  Violin

This month’s student spotlight features Dylan Burke, a 6th grade violinist from Auburn.  Dylan has been  enrolled with Pakachoag for over 10 years, first as a Music Together student, and then 7 years ago, as a Suzuki Violin student.  Dylan believes’ learning new songs is really cool!’

Dylan has great words for his teacher who helps him learn new songs. She eases him into the learning by making him practice the harder parts of the song first, so other parts of the song then seem easier.

Dylan has been taking his lessons online for the current school year.   Dylan’s mom, Ruby, believes that the music lessons have not only helped Dylan make beautiful music but have also helped him improve his focus in traditional school settings.

The family had to make some adjustments to their schedule while transitioning to the online lessons. It was not very easy in the beginning, Ruby admits. The children in the family had to adjust to remote school along with online music lessons, while both parents were also adjusting to remote full-time work. But once the family found a rhythm, they adapted well to this new “online” way of learning.

When asked if anyone provides him extra inspiration, Dylan comments:  “Rob Landes is really good at playing the violin and he plays video game soundtracks on his youtube channel that I like to watch.”

Dylan is yet another success story of how online lessons at Pakachoag have helped students continue their music journeys during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s difficult but rewarding so keep on going, don’t give up,” Dylan recommends for current and future students.

Year One, Ainsley as beginner. Teacher Alice works on hand position, posture, and embouchure /blowing position. It was a busy day, so we scheduled the lesson in the office!

This month we shine our spotlight on Ainsley, an 8th-grade student from Worcester, who has an admirable amount of passion and dedication for her instrument of choice, the flute.  2021 is Ainsley’s fifth year of lessons.

Ainsley really enjoys her lessons with her teacher Alice Daugherty every week. She appreciates the different techniques that Alice offers for improvement during their lessons and the fact that Alice has taught her how to read music.

Ainsley is interested in attending an arts-focused high school, so she wanted to continue her lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Her parents have provided continued support for her desire to play the flute.

Ainsley’s elementary/middle school does not have a music program, so Ainsley’s parents wanted to introduce Ainsley and her brother to music and encourage them to develop a love of the arts. Additionally, they wanted their children to learn the fundamentals of reading music.  Ainsley’s parents envision that long after their lives become too busy for sports or other activities they pursue in school, music will always serve as a touchstone in their lives.

Her parents are most proud of Ainsley’s perseverance as she continues to enjoy lessons and performances even when it is very challenging.

More recently, pre-pandemic 2019, Ainsley is energized following a performance class with her brother.

The transition to online learning with Pakachoag Connect has been seamless. They became so used to remote learning in the spring that this was not a major transition for them at all. Ainsley says that in some ways it is easier than in-person lessons. She appreciates the fact that she is not rushing from one activity to another and that she can complete her homework at home before her lesson. Also, she is happy that she doesn’t have to wear a mask or stand behind plexiglass in order to have her lesson.

Ainsley’s biggest sense of accomplishment and pride to date is being able to play scales on her flute. Her biggest musical inspiration is singer/songwriter Hayley Williams.  Hayley not only enjoys her music, but Ainsley also considers her to be a good role model for young girls like herself.

We leave you with one single piece of advice from Ainsley: “Don’t give up and practice as much as you can!”


Neel Smith – 15 year piano student; from Worcester

[A]t some point, even if you go through days where you don’t seem to make any progress, you’ll have a moment when suddenly a passage you’ve struggled with starts to come more easily to you, or you start to hear music in a phrase that just sounded like plonking notes before. That’s always a great feeling…

Adult piano student Neel Smith can’t imagine going through the current pandemic without music. He feels that a lot of us have been shut off from so many experiences with no concerts at Mechanics Hall, no recitals at Pakachoag Music School, and no choral groups to sing with. Making some kind of music at home has been more important than ever for Neel.

As Neel reflects on the past nine months, he says his conversations during lesson time with an incredibly patient teacher Adult Piano student Neel prepares for lessonhelp him listen more carefully to, think about, and find meaning in the music he is trying to play.

His piano teacher Janeen Baker is infinitely patient, and if she is ever frustrated, Neel notes:  “She somehow manages not to let it show! ”  Neel’s work schedule has been chaotic during the pandemic, and he had to reschedule lessons on a couple of occasions. He was particularly appreciative of the flexibility Janeen has provided during a difficult time.

With the challenges of using technology for lessons, Neel loves that they were able to figure that out together – teacher and student.  If his Wi-Fi drops out, and they have to continue with a shaky phone connection, they both figured out together how to do that.   Neel also mentions:  “Janeen has also been very helpful in thinking about things I can be doing on my own, between lessons.   I never imagined discussing online resources like Youtube with my teacher before the pandemic, but those extra suggestions have made a nice addition to my lessons.”

When asked if there is a musician or a music group that particularly inspires him, Neel says has so many inspiring figures to choose from — famous, and not famous alike. Before the COVID19 pandemic, he had been singing with the All Saints Choir, and working with that group week in and week out was a constant inspiration to him. Choir members range in age from elementary school students to those even older than he is. What is most inspiring to him is the way that the commitment of the whole group raises everyone’s level to a point where the choir could create a choral sound that on some occasions literally gave him goosebumps.  For Neel, singing in a choir and applying his piano learning in that context has been an inspiring experience of the lifelong joy of music shared with others.

Neel is currently working on several concrete skills that he hopes will deepen his musical understanding. He is working to play brief compositions more frequently from memory and to improvise simple harmonizations on a given tune.

Neel’s advice to other students during this time is to not let the pandemic discourage you. “Studying music is not a race! It’s OK to take time to reach your goals. Keep at it, and at some point, even if you go through days where you don’t seem to make any progress, you’ll have a moment when suddenly a passage you’ve struggled with starts to come more easily to you, or you start to hear music in a phrase that just sounded like plonking notes before. That’s always a great feeling; try to enjoy all the days in between, even if you feel like you’re struggling. If you can find a friend or group of friends who like to talk about music together, that makes the effort more fun, and can really help you stick with the daily effort of practice.”, he says.

Neel is a great example of how one can pursue music even in tough times like the current pandemic. We, at Pakachoag, hope to continue to provide more online opportunities during and beyond the pandemic for students of all ages.   Pakachoag Executive Director Sarah Smongeski, who has known Neel since before he began his lessons, when his children took lessons, says “We are inspired by Neel’s long-term commitment to the piano! Fifteen years forward, and Neel has progressed from the simplest of piano melodies to playing major classical pieces like Bach Inventions and repertoire of the Romantic Period.  What a significant accomplishment!”.


Practice for quality and not for quantity

– Varsha Swaminathan, Five-Year Violin Student from Shrewsbury

Meet Varsha

“Varsha has really excelled in violin thanks to Pakachoag’s strong violin program”, her mother Vidya praises. Varsha is only in the 8th grade but has been part of New England Conservatory’s pre-college orchestra for three years.  She was accepted by audition last year, 7th grade, into the Junior Central District Orchestra.

Dedication is only part of the recipe for Varsha’s success.  Mom notes, “With Pakachoag making the transition to remote learning so easy, that too has contributed to her on-going growth.  Pakachoag made sure that they worked with the teacher and family to make the transition easy. Madalyne Cross, Varsha’s teacher, is providing weekly zoom lessons with Varsha, and works with the students according to the devices that they have at home”.

“My teacher is helping by always telling me ways to play even better than I already am, such as adding in dynamics and different bow techniques” Varsha excitedly reports.    And from mom:  “We are so impressed with her talent and hard work, with her having performed at various venues thanks to Pakachoag’s group lesson program”.

Varsha studies violin with Madalyne Cross.

Varsha’s Inspiration?

Varsha is inspired by the young world-renowned Chloe Chua (age 11 from Singapore).    “She is really good at playing the violin and has performed in various places as well as won many big competitions.” Varsha adds, “My teacher also helps me prepare for auditions and competitions.” Mom shares Varsha’s dreams for success.  “One day I hope Varsha becomes a performing artist in violin and she continues to play throughout her life no matter what career or profession she chooses.”

At Pakachoag, we are happy to support Varsha’s dreams.  Setting goals and working hard is the way to do it, one step at a time.

Learn more about private lessons here.

Learn more about the Suzuki Program here.

Learn more about the Pakachoag Connect online program here.

Meet Connor, This Month’s Student Spotlight

Connor, Age 14, from Auburn
Two Year Piano Student of Debby Sedgwick

Connor Dion, our October Student Spotlight, is a freshman in high school who loves playing the piano. His biggest musical inspiration is Will Wood whom Connor feels “has an amazing talent and personality”.  Thanks to the Pakachoag Connect program, Connor is continuing to enjoy taking piano lessons remotely during the pandemic with his Pakachoag piano teacher Debby Sedgwick.

Connor’s mom feels that the school and his teacher have made it possible for Connor to pursue his passion and the transition to online lessons was very easy.   She has been able to observe Connor learning a couple of songs in a very short amount of time. His teacher Debby eases him during his online lessons while also not making it boring.

Connor is very proud of his performance this past summer 2020. He can continue to create such memorable performances this year too thanks to Pakachoag’s unique online performance programs. Pakachoag continues to think about student needs and strives to create a well rounded musical program for all its students during this pandemic.

Connor’s teacher, Debby Sedgwick, shares, “I always enjoy Connor’s  lessons.  He is a quick learner, eager to try out new pieces on his own.”

In the words of Connor, “Even when it’s hard or stressful, don’t give up. It goes a long way.”

Anyone, living anywhere, can learn to play online with Pakachoag Music School.

Brian Perry has been able to continue his private lessons this Fall of 2020 thanks to Pakachoag Music School’s quick adaptation to online lessons. Now in his retirement, Mr. Perry practices daily because he knows “learning to play the violin well takes time, in fact, a lifetime.”  Along with learning violin, Mr. Perry also volunteers his time serving as a board member for the Music School.

Mr. Perry is inspired by American Folk Violinist Hanneke Cassel, telling us that he “wants to play like [her].”  We are inspired by Mr. Perry’s dedication to his music and his community, as he strives “to play Irish and Scottish Fiddle Music well enough for people to dance to my tunes.” Reminiscing on playing live in our recitals, Mr. Perry says the applause and encouragement are “the proudest, happiest feeling.”

We have a diverse student body at Pakachoag Music School, and we are grateful that Mr. Perry brings his unique background to our music community.  Now that we are offering remote lessons, Mr. Perry excitedly says “anyone, living anywhere, can learn to play on-line with Pakachoag Music School.”

One final piece of advice from Mr. Perry: “I suggest adults who are approaching retirement age or are already retired ask yourself ‘what can I do for one hour every day that is fun and stimulating?’  It’s music! There are so many cognitive, social, and personal benefits of playing a musical instrument I can’t describe them all here.”

“The Songs Get Stuck in My Head!”

Maya is 9 years old and from Shrewsbury.  Maya first came to Pakachoag in 2012 as a summer early childhood / music and movement student.  In 2014, Maya began violin lessons with Dr. Leah Zelnick.  Maya currently studies with Laurie Knorr.

Sarah, Pakachoag ED, recently asked Maya a few questions by e-mail.

Why do you like playing the violin? I like playing the violin because some of my family members play the violin and I really admire their talent. My parents suggested to try it myself and play with them someday. I said yes. I tried it out and I loved it! The number one reason I love playing the violin is because it is so much fun and the songs always get stuck in my head!

What do you like the most about being a Pakachoag student? What I like the most about being a Pakachoag student is all of the people around me. Along the way, I’ve been in the same group class with many new faces (at the start) that are now some of my best friends. We’ve been able to hang out in our free time and our families too.

What do you think you would like to do when you grow up? When I grow up, I would like to go on tour like Lindsey Stirling. She is a phenomenal violinist and I would like to be like her someday.

Do you have any advice you would give to a new music student? My advice that I would give to a new music student would be “just be yourself.” I think this because I want to be a violinist like Lindsey, but not exactly like her. I just want to go on tour and share my talent like her. And also, if you mess up one note, it’s not the end of the world! You can just go back and fix the error you made and continue with the song. Don’t think that you don’t have talent at all and you shouldn’t share it. I’ve felt that way many times.

Maya in a recent performance alongside some of the friends she has made as part of the School’s Suzuki Violin Program.

Thank you for choosing me as a featured student! I couldn’t ask for anything more!

-Maya Elizabeth Pascoal

Dear Maya, We love knowing that you love to play the violin.  We love reading that you have learned some important lessons along the way like “if you mess up one note, it’s not the end of the world.”  Thank you for participating in our Featured Student community engagement project.    Keep up the good work!

Sincerely, Sarah S. and the Pakachoag faculty

Adult Guitar Student from Dudley

Maria first came to Pakachoag in 2011 while in High School to take clarinet lessons. We were very happy that Maria stayed with us through the end of High School…. AND…then, Maria came back!

Following graduation from Anna Maria College in Paxton, Maria has returned to take guitar lessons each week with Jeff Dostal.   In addition to her music pursuits, Maria is also pursuing additional studies in library science.

Maria reflects…

I continue to take lessons at Pakachoag because I want to nurture my passion for music in the supportive environment that I grew up in. Through my studies at college, I’ve found that taking music lessons at Pakachoag gave me something else to focus on besides all the school work and helps relax me after a long day of studying.

What I like most about my Pakachoag teacher, Jeff is his openness to just go with the flow and helping me pick what material I want to study as it aligns with my interests. There was one moment at Pakachoag that stood out to me, last year, when I performed in the guitar recital, I ended up sounding the last chord to the song perfectly and letting it ring out. In that moment, I felt alive with the music, and a momentary sense of peace.

Amazing how music can do that!  Alive with music, but peaceful and so much  more.  We’re really happy Maria is back at Pakachoag!  May all your music-making and enjoyment continue, for life.

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