Conductor Jonathan McPhee Celebrates a Decade with the Lexington Symphony

Banner McPhee


By Karen Sampson

Lexington Symphony’s 2014–2015 season has been a milestone year. Not only has it been the 20th consecutive year of operation for this successful nonprofit professional orchestra, but it has also marked the 10th anniversary for the organization’s Music Director, Jonathan McPhee.
A leading musical figure in New England, McPhee officially joined Lexington Symphony in 2005, after he guest conducted for the orchestra during its conductor search. “I originally came to Lexington Symphony (which was then Lexington Sinfonietta) because of the people in the orchestra. I had guest conducted for them, and there was an intensity — and a true love for making music — that came through. That kind of joy is infectious.”
During the past decade, McPhee has strived to maintain the player-centered spirit of the orchestra while also acting as a catalyst for tremendous organizational and artistic growth. His tireless focus and his penchant for challenging classical music audiences with innovative programming have helped the organization to flourish. “When we moved to Cary Hall [from the National Heritage Museum] in 2005, the entire organization blossomed,” recounts McPhee. “What resonated with me was the fact that the orchestra was located in an ideal community that was intelligent and cared about culture and, of course, history. The potential was all around to build, and I am a builder.”

4_15 Symphony Collage
Working with a solid foundation comprised of a group of exceptionally talented and passionate musicians, devoted board and staff members, and supportive patrons and volunteers, McPhee has expanded the Symphony’s programming, enabling the orchestra to reach new artistic heights. “Looking back over the past 10 years, I can think of many fabulous experiences,” says McPhee. “We have explored new music and old favorites; popular music and music from the movies. Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 was a milestone for the orchestra, the community, and for me personally. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Elgar’s Enigma Variations also stand out as personal favorites.”
Striving to find new ways to broaden the musical repertoire, McPhee has also worked with the Symphony to commission new classical compositions by contemporary composers. During the 2012–2013 season, the Symphony’s “3 for 300th” campaign led to the creation — and performance — of three new works by composers Sky Macklay, Michael Gandolfi, and John Tarrh in celebration of the town of Lexington’s 300th anniversary. McPhee has also nurtured collaborative relationships with other cultural organizations on behalf of the Symphony. In 2007, the Symphony presented a two-part multimedia concert series, Sight and Sound, which featured specially selected photographs from the Polaroid Collections. Other collaborations from the past decade include performances with New World Chorale, The Master Singers, and the Nashua Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. McPhee has also regularly engaged guest performers from near and far, the likes of which have included British violinist Ruth Palmer, Estonian pianist Diana Liiv, Boston-based pianist Max Levinson, soprano Dominique LaBelle, and numerous young, up-and-coming musicians from Lexington.
Programming directed at diverse audiences has been another area of focus for the Symphony and for McPhee, who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of educating young people about classical music. “One of the most fun experiences I’ve had with the Symphony was the first Holiday Pops concert for kids in 2009. We had no idea that adding a 4 p.m. Holiday Pops performance would draw an audience of kids under the age of six with their parents. It was so good to see so many young people at their first live orchestra concert! What an opportunity.” The Symphony also launched its award-winning educational outreach program for third and fourth graders, Orchestrating Kids Through Classics™, during McPhee’s tenure.
The important work McPhee has done on behalf of — and the positive impact has had on — Lexington Symphony isn’t lost on the organization, which hosted a surprise party for him on Monday, January 19 in celebration of his 10th anniversary with the orchestra. Held in Lexington at the home of board member Miyana Bovan, the event — planned by violinist Barbara Hughey and cellist Susan Griffith — was attended by members of the orchestra; past and current board members; Jonathan’s wife, Deborah; staff members, and volunteers. A commemorative book (created by Griffith) containing pictures and programs from the past 10 years, along with personal notes from musicians, board members, and others who have been involved with the orchestra, was presented to McPhee. “He is an inspiring conductor with a leadership style that encourages the highest level of performance and cooperation from all musicians, board members, and staff,” says Epp Sonin, the Symphony’s board president.
In the end, McPhee says the work he does as Lexington Symphony’s music director all boils down to one thing: the audience. “The audience is really special in Lexington, and they are critical to feeling satisfied with a well-played concert,” he explains. “An orchestra is a living, breathing thing, and the audience is what we live for. Our job is to inspire, entertain, and educate. Providing that balance in Lexington has been, and continues to be, exhilarating.”


For more information about Jonathan McPhee and his full schedule, visit his website: For more information about the LSO, performance schedule details and subscription information see

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The History of the Lexington Fire Department

Below, the Lexington Fire Department assembled before the Minute Man Statue in Lexington Center.

Below, the Lexington Fire Department assembled before the Minute Man Statue in Lexington Center.


By Digney Fignus


When I was a little I loved playing with my fire truck. I even had a bright red pedal car fashioned after a hook and ladder. I was awed by the big shiny trucks rolling along at the end of the Patriot’s Day parade blasting their sirens and bells. Doesn’t every school child at some point want to be a fire fighter?

Fire was one of the first elements of nature that we supposedly tamed.  But Prometheus’ gift to civilization is still held by the most tenuous grasp.  Like a powerful genie, fire is always ready to escape its restraints and wreak havoc upon those who would try to be its master.  Since ancient times, fire was both a great comforter and a great destroyer.  It cooked our food and warmed our homes but could also take our lives and reduce our property to ashes.  Fire was the scourge of every city large and small from the beginning of known civilization.

Rome was the first to try to solve the problem.  Rome was often plagued by fire, most famously when Nero was blamed for burning down 70% of the city in a fire that lasted six days and seven nights.  Emperor Augustus in 24 BC is credited with creating the first fire fighters called “vigiles,” Latin for watchmen.  This was the model for fire prevention up until the early Industrial Age.  The water bucket was the main firefighting tool.  Needless to say, it was hardly effective against a massive blaze.

As a result, as cities became larger and more densely populated conflagrations became more costly.  The problem of urban fires befuddled governments and politicians.  Fire brigades were only established after the tremendous destruction of the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Surprisingly they were first organized by insurance companies in an effort to avoid the massive financial losses that large fires created.  Government lagged far behind, only becoming involved after nearly 200 years when in 1865 London’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade was established.

In North America, Boston was the first city in the then Massachusetts Bay Colony to enact fire prevention legislation.  A year after the city was founded it suffered a major fire, so in 1631 the city banned thatched roofs and wooden chimneys.  But despite the best efforts of governments and insurance companies, until the twentieth century, cities burned to the ground fairly regularly.  Although fire departments started to become more common throughout the nineteenth century, large fires remained an urban nightmare.  The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, supposedly started in a small barn when Mrs. Murphy’s cow knocked over a lantern, burned for three days.  It destroyed much of the city’s business district, killing nearly 300, and left 100,000 homeless.  After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, deadly fires destroyed 80% of the city, and left a death toll of nearly 3000.

Throughout the 1800s Boston continued to burn down periodically.  On July 6, 1861, the New York Herald reported “Terrible Conflagrations in Boston” that started in a rigging shop and burned down most of the seaport.  A year after the Chicago fire made headlines, Boston’s Great Fire of 1872 consumed a huge section of the city’s downtown and finally led to the appointment of the first board of fire commissioners.

During this time new fire codes were enacted and there were many improvements made to firefighting equipment in an effort to curb the great destruction caused by these disasters.  In addition to the time-tested water bucket and fire axe, which had been around since Roman times, leather hoses had been added to the Boston firefighting arsenal by 1799.  Firefighting wagons began to arrive on the scene in the 1800s.

At first these were little more than a big water tub on wheels to aid the bucket brigade.  Most Colonial homes had a fire bucket ready to be deployed at the first sign of smoke.  An example of one still hangs by the stairs in the Hancock Clarke House.  Wagons with hand pumps were soon replaced by controlled chemical reactions that increased water pressure so fires could be fought from a safer distance.  These first machines were hand-drawn or horse-drawn carriages.  Even though the carriages were equipped with large water containers, pumps, hoses, and ladders, they remained only marginally effective.  Most cities still had watchmen that reported fires until 1851 when the first fire alarm was installed in Boston using the then new invention: the telegraph.  Until 1895 Lexington had fire bells that were rung in East Village and the Centre to alert citizens of a fire.

As innovations continued, cities and towns scrambled to update their firefighting equipment with the most modern improvements.  Lexington was no different.  In 1855 Massachusetts passed legislation requiring cities and towns to establish fire departments.  The Fireman’s Standard of March 1, 1915 reports that prior to the Lexington Water Company laying water lines in 1885, fires were fought by “valiant attempts in which practically all the people participated, (using) hand tubs, (and) buckets such as the Liberty, the first known machine in town.”  The Liberty was essentially a bucket on two wheels. According to The Fireman’s Standard, it was painted “ bright yellow and kept in the barn of Bowen Harrington…There were no suction pipes in these machines…the tubs being filled by the use of buckets in a double line.”  At the start, fire equipment was often provided by private citizens.  Soon after the Liberty was put in service, a similar machine the “Water Witch” was purchased by Benjamin Muzzey and presented to the town.

The legislation of 1855 demanded that towns have a suction engine before they could create their fire departments.  In 1857 Lexington budgeted $2100.00 to purchase “two of the most up-to-date suction engines known, the Hancock and the Adams.”  A suction engine could draw water from any water source.  It was a huge improvement on the bucket brigade approach.  Areas that were not close to a natural source of water were encouraged to dig a “fire pond” that would feed water to the engine in case of fire.  An example of one can be seen today near Wilson Farm.  Built in 1856, after many years of service, the Adams suction engine still survives.  It has been lovingly preserved and is currently in the care of the Lexington Historical Society.

Since its early days, the Lexington Fire Department has gone through many changes.  One man has made it his life work to chart those changes.  Bob “The Goose” Washburn is a self-described dedicated fire buff.  He’s also a Lexington treasure.   Over the years he has compiled a complete history of Lexington’s Fire Department and its equipment.  Bob has written several detailed books regarding the subject.  He not only talks the talk, but with 31 years of service on the Lexington Fire Department, “The Goose” is an expert on how to walk the walk.  I had a chance to talk with this local legend about a subject that he loves: “Most of the first firemen were Civil War veterans or their sons. Before the Civil War, all firemen were volunteers.” We sat down over a cup of Joe at the “Dunk” on Woburn St. just outside the center.  “The pumpers weren’t very effective.  Hoses were made out of leather.  You had to oil the hose so it wouldn’t crack.  Horses were rented from the residents of the town.”

Bob Washburn was dressed casually in his Lexington fireman’s T-shirt and arrived with a stack of research papers.  He lit up when we began to talk about his research, fire engines he’d known, and the fires he’d put out.  The Dunk is a regular stop for our local fire crews and I soon began to notice the nods of recognition and respect for “The Goose” from the men waiting to order.   Even though Bob has been retired since 2002 he knew every one of the fire fighters in line, and every one of them knew him.  Bob can’t remember when he wasn’t fascinated by fire fighting.  In large part he thanks his mother Gladys.  She would often bring him to the fire house to play when he was a child.  Gladys encouraged her two boys to be fire fighters.  Both Bob and his older brother Arthur became firemen and for many years served together on the Lexington Fire Department.

Up until 1895 there were few changes in Lexington’s firefighting tactics.  The Adams and Hancock were upgraded and retired for chemical engines that provided better water pressure. But it wasn’t until the Cary Mansion fire on January 24, 1895 that real changes began to take place.  The Cary Estate was built by one of the town’s most beloved benefactors, Maria Hastings Cary.  In 1895 her adopted daughter Alice lived there.  While Alice was visiting her niece in Boston, a fire in the laundry quickly got out of control and consumed the mansion.  Efforts to put out the inferno were hampered by an inadequate water supply.  The Boston Herald reports a bit of mischief as well: “At some point during the blaze the firemen came across a large amount of stored liquor in the mansion and partook of same.  Some of the men evidentially indulged too much.  Two of the firemen were removed from the scene by Lexington Police Chief WB Foster.”

After the fire, in Miss Cary’s letter of thanks to the town she writes, “if only this calamity should result in a better equipped fire department and more generous and progressive town government, I shall feel I have not suffered in vain.” Her message was heard loud and clear. Before the end of the year, a town water system was established, a fire alarm box system was approved, three new pieces of firefighting equipment were ordered, the fire department was reorganized, and the first permanent fireman was employed.

The “father” of the modern Lexington Fire Department is considered George W. Taylor.  Taylor was one of the most powerful insurance men in North America and for a time Chairman of Lexington’s Board of Selectmen.  He pushed hard to improve the fire department.  In 1913 Edward Taylor, George’s son, was appointed Chief of the Lexington Fire Department.  He served as Chief until 1942.  Shortly after his appointment in 1915 The Fireman’s Standard concluded that the “Lexington fire department has evolved from a bucket brigade to one of the most up-to-date firefighting machines in the State.”

The current steward of much of the Lexington Fire Department’s history is the Lexington Historical Society.  I had a chance to talk with Elaine Doran, Archivist  and Collections Manager for the Historical Society, who invited me to research the archives that are in the basement of the Hancock Clarke House.  Besides a wonderful pictorial history of the Fire Department the Historical Society maintains two of the Lexington Fire Department’s most precious artifacts: the 1856 Adams suction engine, and the 1911 La France, Lexington’s first motorized fire engine.  Both are proudly displayed along with the rest of Lexington’s firefighting equipment at the annual Patriots’ Day parade.

Lexington’s newest Fire Chief, John Wilson, was appointed in 2012.  I had a chance to talk with Chief Wilson about the future of the Lexington Fire Department. This year the Department is celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the fire department’s Ambulance Service started in 1940.  Before that, if you needed an ambulance, the McCarthy Funeral Home dispatched one of its hearses to transport you to the hospital. With new state-of-the-art fire engines costing up to a million dollars things have certainly changed since the department’s meager beginnings.  The Chief likens the fire fighters to a large family, “It’s unlike any other job.  You eat, sleep, and train together.”  Chief Wilson is a lifelong Lexington resident.  When he was growing up “one of the Lexington firefighters lived across the street” and like Bob Washburn, when the Chief was growing up he was a frequent visitor to the fire station.  The Chief admits, “I always wanted to be a fireman.  Every little kid wants to be a fireman.”

The Lexington Fire Department has a long and proud history.  They are pledged to be there to help you when you need them most.  Be sure to give these career heroes a loud cheer this year at the Patriots’ Day parade, as they celebrate their 75th Anniversary and continue their tradition of service to the community.


Colonial Times contributor DIGNEY FIGNUS is a Lexington native and musician. His band perform in clubs and festivals around New England.  Check for the latest information on upcoming shows.


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LACS Holiday Marketplace & more…



10AM to 9:00PM
Mon.-Sat. 10AM – 6PM
Sundays: 12PM – 6PM
Final Day: December 24
10am to 5:00pm
A great place to do all your holiday shopping!

For all those on your gift lists: Excellent, one-of-a-kind gifts: Baskets, Fine Jewelry, Paintings, cards and prints, Polymer Clay/Beading, Decorative Arts, Needle Arts, Weaving, Ceramics, Ornaments, Photography, Woodworks and Gift Certificates

Admission and Parking are free. For more information and directions please call:  781 862 9696 or visit





Members of the Teen Pottery Class along with Ceramics Guild potters created one-of-a-kind bowls which will be on sale through December 31st for $15 at Lexington Center’s Via Lago 1845 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington.  All procedse will go to Lexington Food Pantry.




These short-term classes will keep turning up, so keep checking our website: for complete details. Introduce yourself to a new skill, meet a new instructor, or make a unique item!

Preregistration required.  Some examples:  Special Lecture Series: Get Yourself Organized:

Take just one, or sign up for two or three, Product Photography Class, Painting a Color Chart – learning to use watercolors,  Decorative Arts Projects or Assembling a Swedish Star/Snowflake

Adding art enriches our lives!

Classes fill up quickly so stop by the Society Office,

call 781 862 9696 or visit our website at for a detailed listing

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Cary Library Celebrates a Retiring Lady of Letters

Cynthia Johnson

Cynthia Johnson

By Jane Whitehead

Cynthia Johnson wanted no fanfare to mark the end of her three decades’ service at Cary Library, most recently as Assistant Director. No speeches, no presentations, she pleaded. But colleagues stealthily plotted an elegant, low-key Regency-themed tea party that took place in the Administrative offices on Thursday, October 30. (The theme was a salute to Johnson’s authorship of 15 historical novels set in the British Regency period, from 1811-1820.)

Among the guests who gathered to eat scones and wish Johnson well were all four Directors of Cary Library with whom she has worked; Bob Hilton, Carol Mahoney, Connie Rawson, and current Director Koren Stembridge, together with current and former staff, Library Trustees, patrons, and members of the Cary Memorial Library Foundation and the Friends.

Recently retired Cary librarian Elizabeth Dickinson presented Johnson with a handsome scrapbook filled with pages created by colleagues and friends. The volume reflects her wit, kindness, sense of humor, athleticism (she swims and runs every day), writing, style (think Burberry raincoats and Mont Blanc pens), and her years of service to Cary Library from her arrival in 1983 as Reference and Young Adult Librarian through two stints as Head of Reference Services, and two periods as Assistant Director. In all these roles, said former Library Director Carol Mahoney, Johnson proved herself “the consummate professional librarian.”

On October 30, 2014, Cynthia Johnson retired after 31 years of service in various capacities at the Cary Library. On hand to celebrate with Cynthia were all 4 library directors with whom she has served.  From left to right, Koren Stembridge, Connie Rawson, Cynthia Johnson, Carol Mahoney, and Robert Hilton.

On October 30, 2014, Cynthia Johnson retired after 31 years of service in various capacities at the Cary Library. On hand to celebrate with Cynthia were all 4 library directors with whom she has served.
From left to right, Koren Stembridge, Connie Rawson, Cynthia Johnson, Carol Mahoney, and Robert Hilton.

To the surprise of no Cary Library insiders, Dickinson appeared in a raccoon mask and tail. Raccoon references also peppered the scrapbook. A page headed “Cynthia’s Retirement Reading” featured spoof titles including Day of the Raccoon, and Raccoon on a Cold Slate Roof. Teen Librarian Jennifer Forgit explained that on a winter evening in 2004, a patron at one of the internet terminals gave a cry of alarm as a raccoon fell out of the ceiling, where a tile had become dislodged.

“Wearing her suit and high heels, and not a hair out of place, Cynthia captured it in a recycling bin and took it up Belfry Hill to release it,” said Forgit. “Raccoons have been showing up in her office ever since then,” said Stembridge. “Cynthia’s so well known for being a lover of nature that the staff have endless fun redecorating her office every time she goes away – there’s always some tableau, with animals in costume.”

Jane Eastman, Johnson’s long time colleague on the Reference desk, also witnessed the raccoon ejection. “Cynthia will tackle anything – she’s very dauntless!” said Eastman. Eastman, who retired in 2003, but still works occasional hours in the Library, recalled challenging queries she and Johnson fielded in the pre-internet era. “Do you have a video on making rubber gloves?” “How many stoplights are there in Rio de Janeiro?” “What’s the electrical code of Las Vegas?” From Johnson, said Eastman, she learned two essential qualities of the public reference librarian: “to listen well and have endless patience.”

“Cynthia set a high bar for the rest of us to aspire to,” said Stembridge, noting that Johnson’s “deep research capability” and boundless curiosity made her an excellent match for the intellectually demanding Lexington community. Cary’s impressively broad and deep adult book collection is “really Cynthia’s creation, after all these years,” said Eastman. “She would think about things that people needed to know about, and if she could find a book that would meet the need, she would get it.”

Another part of Johnson’s legacy, said Eastman, is the Lexington Authors’ Collection now housed in the Periodicals Reading Room. Building on a small collection started in the late 1960s, Johnson has gathered over 500 volumes by people who live and work in town, from Nobel Prize winners to first-time novelists. “It’s a great way to demonstrate what a diverse community Lexington is,” said Johnson, noting that the collection spans subject matter from “religion to radar to Shakespeare to politics.”

“I’ve been in denial about Cynthia leaving,” admitted Forgit. “I can’t imagine the library without her,” she said. Calling Johnson “the first real mentor of my adult life,” Forgit recalled how tactfully Johnson had made her realize that she needed to upgrade her fresh-from-campus sartorial style, by asking her to re-write the Library’s dress code.  “She is amazingly good at leading you gently into the light,” said Forgit.

In a conversation in her airy office a couple of weeks before her retirement, Johnson was keen to deflect attention away from her personal history and focus instead on the “outstanding organization” that has been her professional home for decades. Over the years, she said, Cary Library has been “blessed with wonderful directors who hired great staff and let them do their thing while quietly orchestrating possibilities in the background: Bob Hilton set the gold standard for the collection with his bibliographic knowledge and expertise; Carol [Mahoney] built us the building, Connie [Rawson] heard the community when they said they wanted programming, and Koren  [Stembridge] is the most fabulous yet, identifying community talent and showcasing it here so that Cary remains at the heart of the community in so many ways.”

The library was also the heart of Rockford, Illinois, the prosperous manufacturing town where Johnson grew up. “My mother always took us to the library,” she said, describing her family as “bookish to a fault.” “We had complete sets of Thackeray and Walter Scott, and you never knew that Dumas wrote so many books,” she said. As a girl, she devoured biographies of American historical figures, historical fiction, and on a snow day when she was in high school, discovered Jane Austen. “That was my true love,” she said, and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice still stands as her “all time favorite” novel, closely followed by George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

Growing up in a house full of books and no television, with parents who read the Wall Street Journal rather than the Rockford Register Star, Johnson said she often felt “totally isolated” from her schoolmates. Ahead of their time in many ways, Johnson’s parents rode bicycles, kept a compost heap, did their own yard work, and drove a foreign car, the first in town. Johnson’s father, a reconstructive plastic surgeon who learned his skills treating scarred Battle of Britain pilots in England and leprosy patients in India, “felt firmly that you should leave a place better than you found it, and he instilled that in all of us,” said Johnson, the eldest of three children.

After majoring in English and French at Wellesley College, where another Illinois native, Hillary Rodham, headed the student government in Johnson’s freshman year, Johnson took a Master’s in Library Science at Simmons College. Her first full-time job as a librarian was a four-year stint as Reference and Young Adult Librarian at Memorial Hall Library in Andover, Massachusetts.

Although Johnson enjoyed her time in Andover, she returned to the world of academic scholarship, taking a master’s degree from Northwestern University in 18th-century English and French literature. On completing the degree, poor academic job prospects made her give up the idea of continuing with doctoral studies, but she had polished the research skills that would underpin her success both as reference librarian and writer.

“They do say you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to sell a book without an agent,” said Johnson. But her experience shows that persistence and knowledge of the publishing industry can sometimes lift a manuscript out of the slush pile. Johnson wrote her first novel in the early 1980s, as a diversion from the stress of job-hunting. When she tried to sell it in 1988, she received polite rejections from three publishers before approaching Signet: New American Library.

Cynthia Johnson’s publicity photo as Evelyn Richardson. Cynthia has published fifteen Regency Romances under her pen name.

Cynthia Johnson’s publicity photo as Evelyn Richardson. Cynthia has published fifteen Regency Romances under her pen name.

After losing the first copy of the story, Signet asked her to send it again, then called her at the reference desk at Cary to offer her a two-book contract. The Education of Lady Frances, published in 1989, was the first of fifteen Regency romances written under the pen name Evelyn Richardson. (The pseudonym is a nod to English novelist and diarist Fanny Burney’s most famous heroine, Evelina, and Johnson’s maternal grandmother, whose name was Richardson.) Johnson’s “Regencies” have been praised by Booklist for their deft incorporation of historical details and “superbly nuanced characters.”

Johnson’s current writing projects are a “fictional biography” of the scandal-prone Swiss-born painter Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) that she has been working on for five years, and the first book in a trilogy of “Regency Historical” novels. The distinction between the “Regency” and the “Regency Historical” genre is very fine, explained Johnson: the latter being slightly longer, with “more sex.”

As she moves on from full-time work at Cary, Johnson looks forward to writing more, skiing more, and learning to travel at a more leisurely pace. “I just want not to be rushing from one thing to another,” she said. But Cary is a famously difficult place to truly retire from, as attested by the many former librarians, including Eastman and Dickinson, who regularly make encore appearances when needed.

“We’re not going to let Cynthia go!” said Stembridge, laughing. “She’s still going to stay connected and we’ll benefit from her institutional knowledge and her years of experience. This is her library, and she won’t abandon us completely!”



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Residents at Brookhaven Celebrate the Launch of “A Common Purpose”

Pictured from left: Joan Keenan, Michael Bentley, Nancy Hubert, Joe Byron of Honor Flight New England and Jim Freehling, President of Brookhaven at Lexington.

Pictured from left: Joan Keenan, Michael Bentley, Nancy Hubert, Joe Byron of Honor Flight New England and Jim Freehling, President of Brookhaven at Lexington.

Before a packed room, Brookhaven president Jim Freehling took the podium to pay tribute to a team of “greatest generation” residents gathered to celebrate the publication of their new book of essays entitled A Common Purpose.

The book is a collection of personal stories and first-hand accounts of the World War II era. “We wanted to capture the stories,” Freehling said. “These are fading memories and it is very important.”

Freehling paid tribute to Nancy Hubert who he said “really didn’t know what she was getting into!” Nancy acted as the editor for the book and Freehling credits her energy and determination for the success of the project. He also acknowledged Bob Kingston who coordinated the photos for the book. The project was funded in part through a generous grant from The Dana Foundation.

In addition Freehling acknowledged the gracious assistance of Michael Bentley of Bentley Publishing who donated his services to the project. Freehling said, “It is very professionally done and we couldn’t have done it without Michael and his crew.”

Finally, Freehling announced that proceeds from the book sales would go to Honor Flight New England, a company that provides flights to the Washington WWII memorial.

Nancy Hubert thanked her fellow residents who were very supportive of the project “Even if they didn’t have a story in the book, people encouraged me, people asked me about the book and you can’t know what a boost that gave me as I was struggling with finding this or that,” she said. She also expressed special appreciation to Joan Keenan, Heidi White and Kathryn McCarthy who first had the idea to publish the WWII memories of their fellow residents. Hubert also thanked Brookhaven staffer Laura Anderson who “bailed me out many times.”

A special highlight of the program was several personal reminiscences Joan Kennan told of joining the army as a WAV and taking a secret Naval Security Course course at Radcliffe. Bob Solo described a special trip to Rome and a visit to a restaurant where he an his buddies “ordered and ate everything on the menu.”

Most touching was a battlefield recollection of Charles Ketcham who described meeting the eyes of a wounded German soldier: “We were two blue eyed boys in a woods of chaos.”

A Common Purpose is a very personal record of WWII with seventy-two stories by sixty-nine authors.



An enthusiastic crowd purchased books after the speaking program.

An enthusiastic crowd purchased books after the speaking program.

To purchase the book, visit

"A Common Purpose"

“A Common Purpose”



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Rediscovering the Feral Girl


Gail Martin


Lexington Visual Artist Reinvents Herself Through Music

By Digney Fignus

Today’s world is ever-changing and often challenging. People who want to make sense of it all, or at least gain a clearer understanding of the chaos that surrounds us, often defer to society’s artists, musicians, or shamans (who are many times one-in-the-same) to interpret the confusion. It’s been that way since time immemorial. Music, art, and spirituality have always been intertwined. From the first scratches of ochre painted on cave walls to the ancient echoes of primal rhythms beaten on a hollow log, it’s what makes us tick. It’s that “feral” ground where images and metaphors emerge from the stillness of the mind or the world of dreams. They are the fuel that has forever sparked the engine of creativity. This is the landscape where Lexington singer and songwriter Gail Martin draws her inspiration.

After 15 years as a recognized visual artist whose critically acclaimed collections have been exhibited most recently at the prestigious Bromfield Gallery, Martin flipped the script and in 2007 began to concentrate full-time on music and songwriting. Gail is just one of the millions of baby boomers who have decided to reinvent themselves at midlife. It’s a new lifestyle model that the flower-power generation has enthusiastically embraced. With the Pew Research Center estimating that 10,000 baby boomers will be retiring every day for the next 19 years it’s something we can expect to see more and more. For those not ready to retire full-time, pursuing the arts offers an array of opportunities for second-act careers.

At age 58, Gail recently previewed her first studio recording, Feral Girl, at Flora restaurant in Arlington. It was an intimate and eclectic crowd of 30-plus supportive listeners and friends. Gail was accompanied by fellow Lexingtonian and accomplished musician Peter Warren on electric guitar, dobro, and lap steel. They seamlessly performed most of the songs from Martin’s debut CD as well as a few new originals and select cover tunes, including Joan Osborne’s inspirational “One of Us” and the classic Santo & Johnny instrumental “Sleepwalk.”


Gail Martin and Peter Waren performing

Feral Girl is a collection of 11 original songs drawn from hard-won experience as well as the world of imagination and dreams. Gail’s freshman CD is a mix of plaintive appeals, stories of transformation, and stark images of life, its struggles, and its triumphs. Martin examines the mysteries and wonders of existence in songs like the opening number “River” and “Unfinished Wings” with its ethereal harmonies. She fearlessly tackles subjects like growing old in “Ugly Trees” and “Last Flowers of Fall,” and homelessness in her haunting narrative “Bessie.” “Life Hard as Stone” shows off her early roots and a familiarity with the traditional form of folk music in her tale of revolutionary New England farmers.

The process of creating Feral Girl was also a journey of rediscovery. In Gail’s words, “A few years ago, I discovered that at some point of the process of becoming a well-civilized young lady, a part of my personality had been exiled to the depths of my subconscious. I came to call her my feral girl. As I explain in a note on the CD, if I hadn’t recovered the spirit and courage of this part, I wouldn’t have been able to do this work. So I dedicate the album to her.”

Gail grew up in rural New Jersey near the Pennsylvania border. She moved to Boston to attend the Art Institute in 1973 with her self-confessed “Farrah Fawcett hairdo and platform shoes.” She arrived on the scene with the idea of becoming an illustrator or commercial artist. Unfortunately, she soon became disillusioned by discouraging teachers at the school who Gail in some ways blames for “banishing the feral girl” that the new CD is dedicated to. Martin soon left the Art Institute in favor of Emerson College where she became a theater major. Having hands-on experience at creating and designing sets eventually led to a job as a window designer at the Jordan Marsh store that was then located on Washington Street in Downtown Crossing. It was a wonderful creative outlet that led to a passion for visual art and eventual success as a recognized artist in her own right.

When asked about the transition from visual arts to music, Gail reflects, “I was actually very surprised to find how connected the song-writing is to visual art, and how quickly the ability to write my own songs emerged. I think in images and images drive both endeavors. All those cover songs I learned also served as a crash course in writing. The other big surprise was that I felt music allowed me to be even more expressive than the visual arts, enabling me to engage on a deeply energetic as well as imagistic level.”

Feral Girl is a profoundly personal project for Gail. “I have been practicing meditation for many years and most years I take a silent retreat of between one to six weeks. I go to a place in rural Massachusetts that allows me to spend a lot of time in nature, and many of my songs grow out of this opportunity to deeply connect to the nature of life and existence. I’m fascinated with this world and the workings of the mind, how to heal our deepest sorrows, and how to be happier, and try to share what I learn in the songs.”

When I was at the Flora CD preview, I also got a chance to talk with Barry Jacobson, Gail’s partner for the last 30 years and husband of 25 years. Barry first met Gail when he was Registrar of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and she signed up for a course in yoga. Yoga and meditation are an ongoing theme in their lives. Many of the fans at the showcase were friends from the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center where both Barry and Gail have been practicing meditation and yoga for over 20 years. Gail draws unabashedly from that spiritual well. In her words, “The nature of mind and the mind of nature are my primary inspirations.” The meditation center was also where Gail first met Peter, her musical accompanist, and fellow performer at Flora.

Gail’s choice to preview Feral Girl at Flora is particularly poignant because Chef Bob Sargent, the culinary master at Flora, was in many ways the catalyst for her current musical career. Chef Bob heard Gail singing at a mutual friend’s party they happened to both be attending. Soon afterward he invited her to sing on a recording that one of his musician friends was working on. That experience of recording in the studio sparked a reemergence of one of Gail’s girlhood joys. “As a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to be Joni Mitchell. So my early training on guitar focused on finger-style playing. I sang in the park, sang in chorus, sang in my bedroom. I performed in a folk trio, called (somewhat embarrassingly) Rainbow. In 2007, after many years of exhibiting visual art, my love of music re-ignited when a friend asked me to sing back-up vocals on his CD. I decided to rededicate myself to this somewhat neglected area, dusted off my guitar, found a great vocal coach and started anew. I must have learned 100 cover songs in the next couple of years, and that training period, combined with the feeling for imagery that had informed my artwork, led me to writing my own songs.”

You can hear some of her early influences like Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin in Gail’s musical crafting. Besides meditation, dreams also play an important role in her writing. Her husband Barry confessed that Gail dreamed about the homeless woman and her dog “Bessie” in incredible vivid detail before putting their story to music. In contrast, Gail’s song “River” came to her while kayaking and contemplating “becoming one with life itself.” Like the river, “To endeavor to live without resistance to whatever state we find ourselves in, come what may.” Her efforts have attracted critical acclaim as well as the attention of local folk legend Vance Gilbert who calls Feral Girl, “satisfying…atmospheric. Her voice is perfect, the stories and writing magnificent, the playing clear and swinging.”

Gail Martin’s transition from artist to balladeer is still evolving, “The process of songwriting is still somewhat mysterious and miraculous to me. I find inspiration in the strangest places, when I am attuned to the world around me in the ideas, the metaphors, the stories seem to arrive synthetically. That is to say that I often feel as though I am a receiver as much as a creator, and that my job is really to practice the skills needed to present the music well, and keep myself open to what wants to be expressed through me. Each song feels like a gift, and with each one I wonder anew at my great good fortune.”

When she is asked about the rewards of recording and producing Feral Girl she is quick to reply, “The biggest thrill has been opportunities to work with talented local musicians. I never found a satisfying way to collaborate in the visual arts, and so art-making was a mostly solitary and sometimes lonely process. When I began to work with other musicians, I was delighted. All the talented people that came in to record on the CD brought so many wonderful musical ideas to the project. It’s like borrowing other peoples’ genius! After so many years of working alone it almost feels like cheating.”

Accompanying Gail on the Feral Girl recordings are Peter Warren; co-producer Larry Luddecke of Arlington’s Straight Up Music studio; Susan Robbins and Marytha Paffrath of the Internationally known women’s world music ensemble Libana; local musicians Valerie Thompson, Beth Cohen, and Jim Gray; and nationally known singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert.

Sunday, November 2, marks the official release of Feral Girl with an afternoon concert at The Burren in Davis Square, Somerville from 2:00PM to 5:00PM. The show is free and open to the public. The performance will feature Gail and Peter as well as other special guests who performed on the CD.

For more information, visit

Colonial Times contributor DIGNEY FIGNUS and his band perform in clubs and festivals around New England. Check for the latest information on upcoming shows.


Gail Martin and Peter Warren performing

Gail Martin’s CD – Feral Girl – is available at

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Adam Grossman’s 20th Season20th

By Jane Whitehead

At 9:00 p.m. on a wet Wednesday evening, twenty or so of the Master Singers of Lexington are sight-reading a song by 19th-century French composer Claude Debussy that requires them to sound like tambourines.

During the tenure of Music Director Adam Grossman, the accomplished chamber chorus has met many such demands. Known for his championship of contemporary composers, and his encyclopedic knowledge of music from Bach to Broadway, Grossman has challenged his singers to imitate everything from blaring taxi horns to farmyard animals, as well as leading them in acclaimed performances of masterworks of the classical canon.

Adam Grossman

Adam Grossman

To mark his twentieth season with the Master Singers, Grossman has worked with board members to devise programs around the theme: “New Works, Old Favorites, Returning Friends.” “Every concert has a new piece by a composer we’ve premiered in the past, and all the guest artists have also played with us before,” he explains.

The opening concert of the season, at 8:00 p.m. Saturday November 1, at First Parish Church, Lexington, features songs by Mendelssohn, Debussy and Barber, with the first performance of Ruth, a setting for chorus, soloists, piano and clarinet of a part of the Biblical Book of Ruth, commissioned by the group from Vermont-based composer Sara Doncaster. Guest clarinetist Katherine Matasy will also perform Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano, with the Master Singers’ longtime accompanist Eric Mazonson. “Eric is a very important part of my experience with the group,” says Grossman, “ and a very important part of what we do.”

 Programs Playful and Profound

“One of Adam’s amazing strengths is his inspired, creative programming,” says tenor David Getty. He and his wife, the late Sarah Getty, joined the group in 1976 when it was still a chamber chorus of The Masterworks Chorale, under the direction of the late Allen Lannom.  “Adam puts together programs for the four concerts each season, each based on a theme, combining works within a program that contrast and complement one another, and showing great diversity across the season,” says Getty.

The group’s annual Pops concerts show Grossman’s ”playful and creative mind,” says Getty. With titles like “Sue Me!” “By the Numbers” and “Come Rain or Shine,” each concert brings together songs from many eras, linked by a shared theme. For the 2014 Pops concert, “Shall We Dance?” the program included favorites from Broadway and Hollywood, mixed with Gilbert and Sullivan, Argentine tango and a sixteenth-century German galliard. One of tenor Haris Papamichael’s all-time favorite Pops events was “Food, Glorious Food,” for which the program was presented in the form of a menu.

“Adam is first and foremost a serious musician,” says soprano Hope Tompkins, a veteran of choral groups large and small, from Manhattan to Boston. “He makes it possible for the Master Singers to delve deeply into and bring forth the sounds of many centuries, from Claudio Monteverdi to Eric Whitacre,” says Tompkins, who joined the group in 2011. She also appreciates Grossman’s sense of fun, recalling the time when at a Pops concert, he handed out giant day-glow colored sunglasses to all the singers for their rendition of “Stayin’ Alive” from Saturday Night Fever.

 A Life in Music

Grossman’s step-brother Joshua Cohen has sung bass with the Master Singers since 1995. He realized at an early age that Grossman had serious musical talent. When they attended a summer music camp in New Jersey together as young teenagers, Cohen remembers that all the campers were given clarinets to try. “I was tweeting around and Adam was playing melodies,” he says. “You got a real sense that he was already on his way.” Grossman pursued undergraduate studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and at Boston University, before focusing on composition as a graduate student at Brandeis University.

Grossman’s career in conducting, composing and music education has made him a familiar figure on many podiums in the Greater Boston area and beyond. He is currently conductor of the Junior Repertory Orchestra on the New England Conservatory of Music Preparatory School, and teaches in the Newton public schools. He is the former Music Director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, former conductor of the Boston Cecilia Chamber Singers, and has taught at the All Newton Music School, and in the Brookline and Somerville public schools, and made guest appearances with groups including Symphony by the Sea, the Longy Summer Orchestra and Chorus Pro Musica.

Grossman’s style as a conductor, says Cohen, is self-effacing rather than self-promoting. “He’s not a ‘personality’ conductor,” says Cohen. “He’s not someone who spends a lot of time talking about his philosophy of music, or describing things in poetic terms. He believes in putting the music first, not the conductor.”

Master Singers’ founding member, soprano Harriet Chmela, 78, says: “I have seen a lot of growth in Adam’s conducting since he began directing the Master Singers, and the group has grown along with him. This has been a very productive twenty years.” Grossman’s demanding but respectful approach to his singers is an important part of that success, says Chmela. “Singers are treated with sensitivity and trust and this is very important for harmony in the best sense of the word,” she says.

Soprano Catherine Sukow agrees. “Adam’s style is a great combination of respect for the music, respect for the musicians, adventurousness, creativity in programming, and passion for the performance,” she says.  As an educator with a good sense of humor, he makes the whole rehearsal process a pleasure, she says, from “slogging through the difficult parts” to “building cohesion, adding nuances and bringing it all together for the concert.”

 Taking Music to Schools

In 1997, two years after taking over as Music Director of the Master Singers, Grossman started a Children’s Concert series in collaboration with Lexington public schools. “I’m very happy to be able to bring this kind of music to children,” he says. “A lot of kids think choral singing is something you do while you’re in school, or in college, and not only do we give them a chance to sing with us, we show them that this is something some people do for their whole lives.” This season’s free concert will take place at Clarke Middle School, on Saturday March 14, 2015.

A previous Children’s Concert at Clarke encouraged Catherine Sukow to audition for the Master Singers, three years ago. “As a mom, I appreciated the fact that they came to sing a concert for and along with the students,” says Sukow. She wondered about the source of “the crazy, fun rounds that they got the whole audience to sing,” and found out later that they were Grossman’s creations.

Sukow looks forward to tackling a full-scale Grossman composition in the final concert of the season, on May 16, 2015. This will mark the official 20th Anniversary celebration, says Grossman, who will make also an unusual appearance on that occasion as a violinist, in the ensemble accompanying guest artist Frank Powdermaker in J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor. As for his own composition for that concert, Grossman says: “it is not yet completed or named.” He adds with a laugh, “But we’re talking about May here, so we’re on schedule.”

Grossman’s ability to inspire loyalty among his singers is attested by the long-term commitment of so many members of the ensemble. “I look forward to each season, and hope to be part of the adventure for many more,” says Chmela. For his part, Grossman highly values his enduring partnership with the Master Singers. “No conductor is guaranteed a position,” he says. “Anybody who has the good fortune to be a music director, let alone to work with a group for 20 years, is a very lucky person.”





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Local Couple Creates “Lexington Soaps”

By Devin Shaw

Umesh Shelat

Umesh Shelat

In 2005 Umesh and Radha Shelat had a son. By the time he was two years old he had developed mild eczema. “We tried everything, over-the-counter products…commercial products. Nothing worked at all, it wasn’t severe but it was causing irritation, so my wife decided ‘I’m going to make my own soap’,” Umesh explained.

The homemade soap helped his son almost immediately, “It was very plain and non-fragrant—but it worked; the eczema was gone after two weeks,” Umesh told me. After that, she began experimenting with different fragrances and different essential oils. “We loved it,” he went on to say. “For about a year we just made it for ourselves. We started giving it away as gifts. Our friends liked it.”

Umesh comes from a business background; he has spent 20 years working in the investment industry on both the buying and selling side. He realized that there was potential with the soap they were making. “We thought, ‘We like it, our friends like it—maybe other people will like it?’”

Radha spent time perfecting her recipes. “We continued like that for a couple of years, and in 2012 we formed our company Lexington Soaps,”  Umesh said.

The chemistry of soap making is called saponification.  According to the soapmaking expert David Fisher from, saponification is an “exothermic (gives off heat) chemical reaction that occurs when fatty acids come into contact with lye.” Saponification, he explains, means “turning into soap” from the word, “sapo” the Latin word for soap.
A precisely calibrated recipe is crucial, because each kind of vegetable oil requires a different percentage of lye in order to fully saponify. The by-products of the saponification reaction are glycerin and soap. Radha comes from a highly technical engineering background that requires extreme precision. Her background has translated well into soapmaking. Said Umesh, “You have to be very precise. It’s very detailed oriented.”

“The first process involves combining butters and oil,” he explained. “Then you add a lye mixture to it that reacts with the butter and oil combination to create the soap.” The big vat of soap has to be poured immediately into specific molds. The saponification process takes 24 hours. Once that 24-hour process is complete there is not lye left. “The next day we take it out of the mold, cut it and stamp it. We let it cure for 4 weeks.”

Quality is very important to both Umesh and Radha. They had always wanted to have their own business and according to Umesh they regularly asked themselves, “What can we make that we feel is the best product out there—without mortgaging the house?” After discovering their ability to make high-quality soap they had an answer.

Umesh and Radha want to provide an outstanding product to the residents of Lexington. Umesh explained, “We live in this town of Lexington—and it’s a unique town. We have a product that is representative of what we love about Lexington. It’s a quality of life; the people that live here are the best at what they do. After living here for years, it occurred to me that we want to have a product that was consistent with the theme and the culture of the town on an intellectual basis—a high quality product for a high quality town. We realized by making soap we could deliver on that dream.”


cucumbermelon Shaving Soap
coconutlime BB Sage Shave Cream
Lexington Soaps makes a wide range of all natural products. Clockwise from top: Cucumber Melon Soap, Sandalwood Shaving Soap, Sage Lime Soap, Blackberry Sage Shaving Cream and Lavender Soap.Each soap is made from emollient rich butters and oils and delicately scented with essential oils. These handmade soaps are beautiful and make great gifts. Find them at Theatre Pharmacy in downtown Lexington and Santoro’s Ace Hardware in Bedford. Order direct from:

Umesh gave me a sampling of their soaps to try for myself. I was impressed. The fragrances are refreshing, but it is the moisturizing quality of the soap that is superior. “Our soaps are not super-high lather, and if you look at other high-end soaps they don’t claim to have a lot of lather either. We want to create tiny bubbles that will help moisturize the skin.”

The all natural ingredients are highly emollient. For example, the Cucumber-Melon soap contains real pureed cucumbers along with African Shea butter, canola oil, palm kernel oil, extra virgin olive oil, castor oil, distilled water, and cucumber melon essential oil.

The Lexington Soaps recipes have been developed with care to provide a gentle, luxurious experience. They also offer Body Butter, Lotions, Balms, Sugar Scrubs, Shaving Soaps and Cream as well as lip balm. The fragrances range from Cranberry Spice, Sage Lime, Oatmeal Honey to a White Tea and Ginger. “We have floral, herbal, citrus and woodsy fragrances. We follow a certain perfume pattern,” Umesh explained. There is an unscented soap for those who are sensitive to fragrance and rich and gentle goat milk soaps.


Spa Kit

The Lexington Soaps Spa Box makes a great gift.


Each soap is packaged in its own “drawer” for a lovely presentation.












The shaving products really delivered. I’ve been shaving since an early age and have incredibly sensitive skin. Since I often suffer razor burn, I am always on the hunt for great products. I have tried everything including an expensive line from Nordstrom and the exclusive Shaving Company brand. In every dimension, the Lexington Soaps products surpassed even the most expensive products I have tried. My skin was well moisturized, free of razor burn and the shave was incredibly close. My typical five o’clock shadow did not show up until much later which was an added bonus!

Umesh and I agree that shaving should be enjoyable. Lexington Soaps provides a shaving soap that is perfect if you use a brush while shaving; and if you do not use a brush you can use their shaving cream as I did. “The shaving cream is all oils and butters. It is emolliating and extremely moisturizing,” Umesh said.

If you want to treat your skin, especially if your skin is sensitive, summer is a great time to give these products a try. Sun, saltwater, insects and sweat can be a nightmare for delicate skin. Lexington Soaps products can be found at Theatre Pharmacy and Santoro’s Ace Hardware in Bedford. You can also purchase their products from their website

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Lexington Montessori Celebrates 50 Years

By Jennifer Goebel

Where Pleasant Street crosses under Route 2, a collection of unassuming white, Federal-style houses hosts one of Lexington’s educational rock stars: Lexington Montessori School. This June, LMS celebrates its 50th anniversary. For many Lexingtonians, School Exteriorthis may come as a Logosurprise—Lexington is known for its excellent public schools, but this world-class Montessori school tends to fly under the radar.

Started in 1963 by a group of Lexington parents looking for a different kind of education for their kids, the small preschool opened in its present location—130 Pleasant Street—in 1965. Fifty years later, the campus consists of four buildings and has a student body of 230. Students range in age from 21 months to young teenagers (8th grade), and come from more than 20 surrounding towns.

“LMS is here because there are Lexington families who believed in Montessori. When you choose Montessori, you are choosing a different educational philosophy,” says Aline Gery, LMS’s Head of School since 2006. “We’re grateful to be part of such a wonderful community that supports us.”



Montessori schools take their name from Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator who opened her own school, Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House), in a low-income district of Rome in 1907.


The Montessori Spark
In 2011, Wall Street Journal ran an article about the surprising number of highly successful, creative people who are Montessori graduates: Larry Page and Sergei Brin (Google founders), Will Wright (creator of Sim City and Spore), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia founder), Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder), Sean “P. Diddy” Combs (Rap artist), and Julia Child (French chef). Dubbed the “Montessori Mafia,” many of those interviewed credited Montessori with allowing them to think creatively and discover things on their own.


“Maria Montessori was all about watching kids,” says Gery. “She paid attention to the fact that kids don’t spend a lot of time sitting down. She realized that manipulating their environment is critical to how they learn and how their brains develop.”

Montessori’s educational philosophy initially caught the attention of educators all over the world, but after a brief popularity that lasted until the 1920s, the movement stalled. In 1953, Dr. Nancy Rambusch, an American educator in search of alternatives to traditional schools, met Mario Montessori, Maria’s son, at a conference in Paris. Inspired, she started teaching Montessori classes in her New York City apartment for her own children and others, and launched the first American Montessori school in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1958. Today, there are more than 1300 Montessori schools in the United States, including more than 400 programs in public schools.




Jane Mack

LMS’s founding can be traced back to a women’s book group in Lexington in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The story goes that the group read one of Montessori’s books on early childhood education, and became inspired to try it in Lexington. Jane Mack (photo at right), a member of the group, travelled to Greenwich, CT for workshops in Montessori teaching at the Montessori school founded by Rambusch. Mack was the school’s first teacher, holding classes in the basement of Temple Isaiah in 1963. Happy with the program’s success, Mack and parents of the preschoolers looked for a permanent home for the school, and finally found one in the old David Wellington Homestead, which had just recently ceased its run as a restaurant called The 1775 House.

Mack continued to teach classes, lead the school, and travel to conferences to learn more about Montessori education. She studied the Montessori approach to infant and toddler care at the Montessori Birth Center in Rome, and continued to supervise the LMS toddler program as she spearheaded the growth of the school. Mack served as headmistress until her retirement in 1991. Under her leadership, the school grew to 200 students from 18 months to sixth grade. When the school added a lower elementary building in 1990, it was named in her honor.


Biff Maier teaching.

Biff Maier teaching.

Montessori classrooms around the world may differ, but all of them have some things in common: multi-aged classrooms, self-directed learning and discovery for long blocks of time, and no grades or tests.

“When people go see a Montessori classroom for the first time, I tell them they should think in terms of seeing a professional environment, like an architectural firm,” says Biff Maier, Director of Faculty and Curriculum Development. “It  might look confusing—you might see a small group having a meeting, a few people working at drafting board, people doing presentations, and some people standing around the coffee machine chatting. You wouldn’t think it was bedlam, you’d think people are working. That’s what you will see in an LMS classroom—there will be kids working on a problem together in one part of the room, a teacher giving a small group lesson in another part, and some kids chatting or wandering around.”

Montessori schools are also famous for their manipulative materials. Rooms are laid out in categories—literature, math, science, history—and curriculum materials are sequenced from the most fundamental to the most complex. While there are milestones and educational objectives that all the children must reach, when and how they accomplish those, with whom, and how they demonstrate mastery, are primarily directed by the students themselves.

“The best of my day is hearing from the kids how their day is going,” says Jasmine Duffy, Children’s House Head Teacher for PreK and Kindergarten, and an LMS alum herself (1999). “I love watching the children work with the Montessori materials and make their own discoveries.”

Maier admits that this is hard for some parents and teachers. They may really like the idea of kids taking leadership roles in their learning, but they still want the accountability that comes with conventional classrooms and conventional metrics of achievement: standardized tests and grades.

“There’s a different kind of trust in Montessori schools,” says Maier. “I tell teachers that the secret of classroom management is to not be surprised when people are doing what’s appropriate, but to be surprised if they don’t. If they feel trusted, the students will respond. That’s what good bosses do.”

Above Aline Gery, LMS’s Head of School since 2006, pictured with her literature circle.

Above Aline Gery, LMS’s Head of School since 2006, pictured with her literature circle.

Gery, who was a high school teacher before coming to LMS, says that how she talks to and understands kids is very different now that she has been immersed in Montessori.

“That pervasive respect for kids, the way all the adults interact with their smaller charges here, is infectious. I think kids leave here with more than just knowledge; they know they have something to offer. They are confident kids who succeed as citizens of their new communities.”



This summer, Montessori teachers from around the country and the world will come to LMS to receive training at the Montessori Elementary Teacher Training Collaborative. Maier, who has been training teachers for more than 30 years, is excited to have the training program at LMS for the second year. The program had been in New Rochelle, NY for many years, but recent changes allowed him to bring the program to Lexington.

Training Montessori teachers is different from most other teacher training. It looks, in fact, rather like a Montessori classroom.

“We treat the teachers the way we want them to treat the kids. Autonomous, independent, in charge of their own training,” explains Maier. “We give teachers a real toolkit, not just a philosophy. We tell them what to do and even what to say. Montessori is scripted, but even so, people using the same script can have very different styles and ways of connecting.”



As it enters its sixth decade, LMS is seeing children of former students enroll. And, three teachers currently on staff are LMS graduates themselves.

“Being a Montessori teacher helps keep me optimistic about our uncertain global future because Montessori truly believed that children are significant agents of social change,” says Laini Szostkowski, Upper Elementary teacher and LMS alumna (1991-2001).

Long after they leave the school, LMS students remain connected. Maier brings back a group of students who have gone on to high school or college to talk about how Montessori education has shaped their lives each year.

“So many of them say the biggest difference that Montessori made in their lives was the habit they made of having relationships with teachers. They felt confident and valued, and weren’t afraid to jump the fence between teachers and students that exists at so many schools,” explains Maier. “They also talk about organizational skills they learned, and how much they like being in control of their education.”



Pictured left: The Montessori property when it was the 1775 Restaurant (note 1775 on chimney). At the right, an original menu from the restaurant. Despite the restaurant’s name, the original house was likely built circa 1805 by David Wellington, known as “Captain David,” who was a tanner and farmer, as well as the deacon of the First and Follen Churches. The house then passed to his son Francis Wellington, and then to the Bartlett family, who were also farmers. Around 1936, the house was transformed into the restaurant, which it remained until LMS purchased and renovated it in 1965.

“So much has happened in 50 years to strengthen the school,” says Gery. “Some families are with us just for the preschool years, while others may be with us for 13 or 14 years, sometimes longer if they are sending more than one child through the school. It’s their support and their vision that allows us to expand and grow.”

The school’s former life as a restaurant is not forgotten by town residents or the school’s leadership, however.



“Just last week, a woman came into the building because she was lost. It turns out she had her wedding reception at The 1775 House Restaurant,” says Gery. “People still remember this area before Route 2 was built. These buildings are part of the Lexington community.”

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration scheduled for June 14 (see above), the school is inviting members of the community who might have pictures, information, or artifacts from the early years of the school to stop by and share their history and memories.

“We would really love to hear from students and teachers from the very earliest years of the school,” says Gery. “When alums and past parents visit LMS, they often say that all they loved about their time here is still evident, while also being pleased to see we have solar panels, student gardens, an expanded library and, most of all, a middle school!”

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Twelfth Night at Bridge School

Curtain CallBy Laurie Atwater

Visit Bridge School in the early morning before class, or after school, and you may find that you’ve been transported back to Shakespearean England by enterprising thespians and their intrepid director Leslie Colby.  Long after Lexington lost its elementary theater specialist, Ms. Colby has kept theater alive at Bridge.  For fourteen years, her Shakespeare Troupe has been staging an abbreviated version of Twelfth Night or What You Will.

“It started out as a class project,” Ms. Colby explains.  But when the curriculum began to move to quickly to accommodate in class projects of any scope, Colby was undeterred.  Giving generously of her own time, she actually expanded her little Shakespeare experiment to include all Bridge 4th and the 5th graders who wanted to audition.

The Bridge Shakespeare Troupe was formed with the goal of presenting one yearly production that was true to the text and the spirit of the original.

And Ms. Colby knows her Shakespeare.  She earned her BA and Masters in theater education and has directed and acted in many adult productions over the years. Her husband Robert (Bob) Colby is the director of the elite graduate program in theater education at Emerson College.  Together they have theater in their blood.  Most recently Ms. Colby was the recipient of an LEF Summer Fellowship Grant which she used to study drama in London at the Globe Theatre.  “I did some workshops there and I did a lot of work with Shakespeare.”  Work that she’s putting to great use at home in Lexington. Colby tells me that the sets for the play are modeled on the original Globe Theatre sets for Twelfth Night.

What’s great about this story is that I would never have known about Ms. Colby or this Twelfth Night production if it were not for one parent who wanted to highlight this great educational experience in town.  She reached out to me because she realized that special alchemy was happening at Bridge school—that moment when teaching and learning were combining to create the magical potion called education.  This isn’t test prep, drills or CORE requirements, this is the education that inspires and reaches deep within students to foster real joy in learning.

Colby is a big fan of this special joy.  She would have to be.  With the demands of modern curriculum requirements, Ms. Colby no longer has the classroom time to devote to Shakespeare.  All of the work for the production is done on her own time, but she is quick to say that her enthusiasm for the project has never waned.  And she credits the Lexington parents for helping to keep it going.  “We would never be able to do all of this ourselves for so many years,” she says. Even with her husband’s help, it’s a challenge to manage everything that goes into the production.  “We have one family that has let us use their basement for storage,” Colby says laughing. Indeed the Edelman family on Middleby Road has saved the Bridge School Shakespeare Company.

Because the school does not let them store any of their materials on site, they have relied on the kindness of these neighbors whose children have been Colby thespians over the years.  Andy, the youngest Edelman just performed in Willy Wonka at the middle school and is planning to attend Walnut Hill to pursue his passion for the arts.  Over the years hundreds of parents have sewn costumes, applied makeup, painted sets, gathered props, and gotten their children to rehearsal.  The children never forget their experience. “Once they are part of the Shakespeare Players,”Ms. Colby says proudly, “they come back year after year to support the new kids and see the play.” And of course to see her.

The reward is worth the effort for Ms. Colby.  “I have children who have all different skills and abilities, but they all learn and grow,” she says.  “You can see their improved confidence—they learn to work cooperatively and master a task over time,” she says.  Theater is a lot of work. Children not only memorize their lines but they have to understand the context of what they are saying and refine their delivery. The have to be accountable to the other actors—learn their blocking and their cues, hit their marks and become part of the company.  It takes cooperation, self discipline and teamwork.

Parents are thrilled to see their children performing in public and developing those skills that will be important as they grow. “It’s really such joy and excitement,” Ms. Colby says, “A feeling of accomplishment that they don’t get from a short little paper or a worksheet.  That joy—it’s why I wanted to teach in the first place and it seems to be diminishing every day.  When the curtain goes down and the company takes a bow, Leslie Colby always sheds a tear or two, but only for a moment because next year she will begin anew! [Read more…]

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