Max Esmus, Artistic Director of the Haddonfield Center & School for the Performing Arts, talks with us about the School’s history, the Haddonfield community, his choir camp and the 2017 concert series.
Can you tell us more about the history of Haddonfield Center & School for the Performing Arts?
The Haddonfield Center and School for the Performing Arts was founded in 2012 by a small committee of members of Grace Episcopal Church in Haddonfield. Blessed with a beautiful facility, including the Grace Performance Hall, our large flexible-use auditorium, and numerous classrooms and studio spaces, the founders envisioned putting these resources to work for the benefit of the community on every day of the week. While we remain in close partnership with Grace Church, the Center operates as an independent non-profit organization with separate leadership and mission.
The Center serves as a hub for the performing arts in Haddonfield and the surrounding area. Our facility is always busy with activity. In addition to our own presentations on our Concert Series, we host two ensembles-in-residence for weekly rehearsals and occasional performances: the Greater South Jersey Chorus and the Symphony in C Youth Orchestra. Many other local arts organizations use our facility, including local music studio recitals, theater school rehearsals, and rock/punk band concerts.
What is your favorite part about being located in downtown Haddonfield? Is there a strong sense of community in Haddonfield?
The best thing about being located in Haddonfield is the town’s emphasis on living local. The Haddonfield community is committed to their town, as evidenced by their continuing support of local businesses, local events, and local arts. As part of the Haddonfield community, our mission is primarily local in nature; the way we see it, one should not necessarily need to travel far to hear great music or enjoy great arts programming.
How do you choose artists and organizations for your concert series? Anything you can tell us about the 2017 series?
Our concert series, which usually features six or seven events per season, offers an eclectic mix of music from all sorts of styles. Right now, we’re finalizing our 2017-18 season (I can’t share any details yet!), so the question of how we choose artists for the series is fresh on my mind. Our most important concern is to present music of the highest quality and to give our patrons an intimate and living experience of true art being made, whether it’s coming from a string quartet, a jazz ensemble, or an acapella vocal group. We hear the same things again and again on patron surveys: “I love all styles of music, just so long as it is good!”
Our venue, the Grace Performance Hall, favors a particular style of presentation, where the “wall” between audience and performer gets broken down, and the audience becomes closely engaged in the music-making. We are also well known for our post-concert receptions, beautifully coordinated by our corps of volunteers, where audience members can meet the performers, ask questions, buy merchandise, and enjoy the afterglow of an amazing shared experience. At the end of the day, we hope to enrich the lifelong musical engagement of our patrons, and we think one of the best ways to do that is to offer audiences an opportunity to build connections with artists and performers, and to learn in depth about the music they’re hearing.
Can you tell us more about choir camp, music lessons and zumba?
Haddonfield Choir Camp is our premiere arts education program. It’s a day camp where young people of all ages spend a week learning to sing in community. The youngest campers learn rounds, traditional folk songs, and some silly ones for fun, while the teen division spends the week intensively studying more advanced choral music, focusing on harmony, blend, and expression. Thanks to our staff of excellent music teachers, it’s all grounded in basic principles of healthy singing technique while at the same time offering these young people a valuable community-building experience.
Our ultimate purpose is to foster a lifelong love of singing, and to send a message that singing is not just for the pros, and not just for school or church. People have been coming together to sing together — just because it feels good — for most of human history, and we hope that continues.
Music lessons at the Center are offered by our independent teaching partners, who teach individual and group lessons in violin, piano, voice, guitar, and more in our spacious studios. In addition, Zumba dance-fitness classes are offered by our teaching partner, Denette Beluch. Mixing the performing arts with fitness, Zumba is a natural fit for the ballroom floor of the Grace Performance Hall.
Do you have any upcoming events or news that we should share?
Choir camp this year is August 7-11. Our younger division is just about full, but we still have a few more spaces for 9-12 year-olds and 13-18 year-olds. Sign up information is on our website.
Our 2017-18 Concert Season will be announced soon! Stay tuned.