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“We welcome everybody:” Granda pledges to open Berkshire Music School’s doors to all, expand mission countywide

Luis Granda.
Josh Landes
Luis Granda.

The Berkshire Music School has been offering music education out of its historic 19th century headquarters in the heart of Pittsfield, Massachusetts since 1940. This summer, Luis Granda is taking over as Executive Director as the school’s leader since 2020 – Natalie Johnsonius Neubert – departs. It’s a homecoming for Granda, who grew up in nearby Washington and toured the county in bands as a young man. A graduate of Berkshire institutions like Berkshire Country Day School and Pittsfield High School, he has a BA in Jazz and African American music from UMass-Amherst and a master’s degree from the University of Colorado Boulder in classical double bass performance and arts administration. Granda is a graduate of the Berkshire Music School, where he studied saxophone, piano, voice, and cello. He sat down with WAMC to talk about his new role.

GRANDA: The outgoing executive director, Natalie [Johnsonius Neubert], has done a really great job of giving me a just wonderful groundwork to build off of. For example, one of the things that she did was create our community programs, which are pay what you can. So, my goal is just to become more ingrained in this community, to really give everybody, any group of people here, something that they can sort of take for themselves that's important for them, whether it's a program or if they want to come take lessons at the music school, I just want to make it accessible for people. That's sort of my number one goal, is accessibility to the entire Berkshire County community.

WAMC: What do you feel like music education brings to people's lives?

This is something, actually, that was really interesting for me to think about doing my master's degree, because I had decided- I have a family, and I had decided that I did not want to be a freelance musician. And a lot of what they teach you in college and in my master's degree is just how to perform, how to play as well as you can, which is important, obviously. But how do those skills translate to other jobs, other positions? So, for me, it was really thinking about, what do I do as a musician that I can then apply to something else? So, the discipline of practice, understanding that you really have to go at it every single day to get better. It’s these small incremental steps, it's not something that happens all at once, you have to chip away at it every day. That was something that I bring to every job that I've done, just building upon the foundation, and getting more and more- Basically, just trying to get better every day. So that that's sort of one important thing. The other thing I think, is accountability, self-accountability, being able to understand that if you didn't practice, you're probably not going to sound as good as if you had. And that doesn't feel great, because you're wasting your time, and you're wasting somebody else's time. So being accountable to yourself, I think, is something that's really important. And just music in general, understanding, being able to listen to music. Music is my life. It's always on, it constantly fills my head, and just an appreciation of music in general. Being able to go see a classical concert or a jazz concert, but also being able to just go see a show of any kind of genre, whether it's rock music, or folk music, or country music, or anything, and just being able to pick out something that you find interesting, and sort of take away whatever the lesson maybe from listening to it. There's always something good happening, you just have to you have to find it.

What's your plan for expanding the school's outreach and making it more accessible to the community?

Something I'm really interested in doing is reaching out to some local organizations and just trying to ask, what is it that people want? I think Natalie has done a really great start with that, and I'd like to expand upon it. So, talking with all kinds of groups that are out here about, what is it that your constituents would like? What would be helpful to them? What would they be interested in? And then being able to make programs based off of that, and again, doing this model of pay what you can so that we're not pricing anybody out. I think it's absolutely important just to have accessibility, because if people know that they can go to these programs, they will come, because it's something to do, and it's something that I think will enrich their lives.

Tell us about a recent program the school did that you're particularly excited about.

We just finished up an electronic music program that I'm very excited about. We're going to be running another version of that this summer. And then hopefully again in the fall. I think there's just something for everybody, and just coming and look, see what we have. And again, I'm all about accessibility. So, if there is ever anybody that feels like they don't have the financial means to be able to take lessons, we have tools available to us to help so that they can come and they can be enriched by music, because I really do think it's very important.

If you could describe the school's mission statement from your perspective, what is that mission? And how would you frame it?

I think when the organization was created in the 1940s, the original mission was to have music available for the entire community. And so again, I'm going to sound like a broken record- But that is something that I'm really focusing on, is just making sure that music is accessible to all, anybody in Berkshire County, that they feel like they can come to the Berkshire Music School and that they can either be part of our programs or they could take lessons. We welcome everybody.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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