OCTOBER 2020 • WWW.TODAYPUBLISHING.NET
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Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley
SONGWRITER FOR THE
MICHAEL KELLY BLANCHARD REFLECTS ON MUSICAL JOURNEY
Greta and Michael Blanchard in the mid-1980s
INSIDE AVON MIDDLE SCHOOL MARKS 50 YEARS Q&A: GRANBY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT RECALLING COLLINSVILLE’S VALLEY HOUSE
An American tree sparrow takes flight in a Canton backyard.
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FROM THE PUBLISHER’S DESK
Today Magazine • Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley
CONTENTS COVER STORY 4 — NATIVE (SONGWRITING) SON
Unionville native Michael Kelly Blanchard reflects on his 50-year career as a troubadour for the heart in an exclusive interview with Today Magazine. COMMUNITY INTEL
8 — Avon Middle School Marks 50 Years
An atypical round design and a Blue Ribbon School honor distinguish Avon Middle School. HISTORY HIGHLIGHTS
9 — Recalling The Valley House
SONGWRITER Michael Kelly Blanchard’s life history intersects in myriad ways with the history of the Farmington Valley — and in an editorial attempt to be in tune with his classic Be Ye Glad, I’m surely glad to spotlight MKB and his family and his songwriting journey in this October issue. A Unionville resident and native, Michael and his wife Greta have recorded 20 albums in their musical 48-year marriage. Michael’s discography is a true Valley treasure. I heartily recommend his songs to anyone seeking the taproot of hope for the human heart — in the face of the heart wounds that attend the life journey of everyone on the planet. Meanwhile, a medical professional I know raised two cogent questions in a recent conversation: If facemasks are effective versus the coronavirus, why are businesses being reopened only in phases — in other words, if masks work, why not open all businesses … like, yesterday? His related question: If facemasks don’t work versus COVID-19, why are we being required to wear them — what do you think? + • Two other Valley magazines • Print Circulation — less than 20,000 • Today Magazine • Print Circulation — 42,000+ • Ad Rates — about the same
ACCENT ON EDUCATORS
11 — COVID Shock For New School Super
When Granby superintendent Jordan Grossman took the reins in January, who foresaw a COVID shutdown? SCHOOL SCOOP
14 — Strong Master’s Bond For MKB
Songwriter Michael Kelly Blanchard traces his history at The Master’s School to the school’s debut in 1970.
Bruce Deckert — Publisher + Editor-in-Chief 860-988-1910 • Bruce.Deckert@TodayPublishing.net Today Magazine — www.TodayPublishing.net > Digital Edition Facebook — @TodayMagazineCT • LinkedIn— Today Magazine Advertising — Contact the Publisher Editorial Associate — Kayla Tyson Contributing Photographer — Wendy Rosenberg • 860-305-1655 Today Magazine Online — www.TodayPublishing.net/blog Five Towns, One Aim — Exceptional Community Journalism
Election Note —The publisher is a political independent, so that’s the editorial stance of Today Magazine. We believe in an advertising democracy: Every local major-party candidate has been invited to leverage our Valley-best circulation (by far) and rates. Only one has done so — we’ll see what happens in the November issue. ————————————————————————————————————–— SEPTEMBER COVER STORY — Cloud Walker + ‘CrutchWalker’ Visit www.TodayPublishing.net for our digital edition of September’s cover story on lifelong amputee Dana Albrycht and his fundraising mountain hike — on crutches — for the disability community. WOW, WHAT AN AMAZING ARTICLE — thank you! It’s been a pleasure meeting with you and I know we will be speaking in the future as well ... really appreciate everything. You did an amazing job. I’ve already had so many people reach out to me who I haven’t spoken to in years. I am incredibly grateful for all the support I have received — thank you so much. Dana Albrycht • Simsbury I JUST COMPLETED your cover story, “Cloud Walker.” What an awesome and inspiring read! Personal highlights include: “Accept, adapt, overcome” and “one step at a time, one mountain at a time.” Thank you for documenting a local who is both utterly exceptional and completely normal at the same time. Brian Nardi, DC • Avon Nardi Family Chiropractic THANKS SO MUCH for running the ForwardCT article by Emmaline Howe. It’s great — love the “Cloud Walker” article too! As an Avon resident and author/ co-founder of ForwardCT, I’ve really been enjoying Today Magazine! I love the format and mix of topics. The magazine is a wonderful addition to the Farmington Valley community. Carrie Firestone • Avon
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COVID Q&As May + July Digital Editions
Back in the day, the spacious Valley House served as lodging for many Collins Company workers.
Glad Tidings As COVID Persists
MICHAEL KELLY BLANCHARD
CONTEMPLATES CAREER OF HEARTFELT SONGS
Page 6 — The MKB File Page 10 — In-Depth Interview with Michael Kelly Blanchard Page 12 — MKB’s 50-Year History with The Master’s School By Bruce Deckert Editor-in-Chief • Today Magazine
SONGWRITERS play an essential role in human hearts and lives because songs are woven into the fabric of the human narrative. While every generation features gifted songwriters, some notable American songsmiths who began their musical careers in the 1970s are now in their 70s. This tuneful 70-something crew includes Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder. Let’s add a Farmington Valley songwriter to the list: Michael Kelly Blanchard, aka MKB. His new 2020 album is Twilight Mostly in E. Blanchard, 71, is quick to say that he is far from a household name in the American songwriters pantheon. The Unionville resident even ventures that he isn’t especially well-known in Connecticut or the Valley, though his fans would demur — and those who know his music will affirm that the quality of Blanchard’s songwriting places him in the rarefied air associated with the most renowned songwriters of his generation. One such fan accepted a recent Facebook challenge to name the 10 most influential albums in his life — and cited artists like Browne, Springsteen, Wonder and Canadian tunesmith Bruce Cockburn. This fan’s #1 album? Michael Kelly Blanchard’s Love Lives On. Asked to explain in 10 words or less why he writes songs, Blanchard replies: 4
Michael and Greta Blanchard have recorded 20 albums together.
COVER STORY + SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTS “To express the joy, longing and loss of the heart.” Perhaps every genuine songsmith writes songs that move the human heart, yet describing Blanchard as a songwriter for the heart is emphatically fitting. His lyrics and melodies, and their artful blending and interweaving, aim to
face of life’s sorrowful side. His lyrics and story subjects acknowledge the presence of pain in the heart’s quest for true love — pointing to the necessity of vulnerably enduring such pain as a pathway to ultimately discovering true joy across the spectrum of relationships … friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters, parents
“Adults write about how their parents played my CDs through their growing-up years — it is a high honor to be part of the soundtrack of a life” — Michael Kelly Blanchard circumvent and penetrate the walls we humans sometimes construct to protect our hearts … though the opposite too often occurs. Rather than guarding our hearts, our self-protective walls can become prisons — “self-dungeons dark and cruel,” to borrow a Blanchard phrase from his classic song There Is Still a King of Hearts. His songwriting offers a merciful antidote to this sad dynamic. Blanchard’s songs and their cogent stories seek to reach the heart and soul with a lifeline of honesty and grace in the
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and children, husbands and wives … and human beings with God. All the above find an illuminating place in Blanchard’s musical catalogue. Greta, his wife of 48 years, identifies a short list of her favorite MKB songs — and they address these universal themes: Love After All — “Love in these times is a gamble at best / On the front lines without a bulletproof vest / Riddled with crimes that infect and infest / Love is a gamble at best / Chorus: But still I believe in Love after all / Though to have it you’ll bleed, to find it you’ll fall / Every soul
needs to be caught by its call — caught by Love after all.” Lance These Wounds — “As I hid my bitter grief / Back turned, pride spurned, would not speak / Day and night ran into one / Rage in ruins — soul undone / Chorus: Lance these wounds, let the anger drain / Till there’s room for something more than pain / Cast out this gloom, banish blame / Lance these wounds, Lord — let me love again.” A View Out the Window — “The view out the window is just a piece of the sky / Sometimes you hear the gray geese go but you can’t see ’em fly / Sometimes your heart aches inside so you feel you could die / And the reasons, well God knows, but He don’t tell you why / Cause the view out the window is just a piece of the sky.” Holy Land of the Broken Heart — “No conditions but the truth, all the shackled shame let loose / Forgiveness the living proof … that Your love is real / Oh, the eyes of humankind, show the pain that numbs the mind, search the sorrow for a sign of mercy in the maze.” Thy True Love — “Thy true love, hiding in my snowbound winter heart / Breaking from that hard ground Your flowers start their timeless art as death departs.” Recorded on 20 albums over a career that spans 50 years, Blanchard’s songs and stories serve as dance partners in the
MKB: Contact Info MKB + QUAIL MINISTRIES www.michaelkellyblanchard.com Facebook — @MichaelKellyBlanchard firstname.lastname@example.org New Album — Twilight Mostly in E distressing yet also delightful realm of human existence. Yes, in addition to our shared heartache, a certain divine delight is a favored Blanchard motif. His signature classic Be Ye Glad — he calls the song his “flagship anthem” — reflects the paradox of jubilation in the midst of desperation: “In these days of confused situations, in these nights of a restless remorse / When the heart and the soul of the nation lay wounded and cold as a corpse / From the grave of the innocent Adam comes a song bringing joy to the sad / Oh, your cries have been heard and the ransom has been paid up in full — Be Ye Glad!” Greta affirms, “Every time I sing it or hear it, there is something new that has transpired, giving new meaning to his lyrics.” Be Ye Glad has been recorded by Noel Paul Stookey — of the legendary folk group Peter, Paul and Mary — among others. Blanchard’s whimsical tunes elicit smiles and laughter via winsome humor,
reflecting life’s lighter side and celebrating serendipity. Here’s a sample from Coppertop, a song about his red-headed son’s toddler stage that gives a nod to a vintage ad campaign: “All through the morning he runs / Bouncing off couches and chairs / Obsessively looking for fun / And finding it most everywhere … Chorus: Coppertop, Coppertop, Coppertop battery / Will not stop, will not stop, will not stop — that is he / But he’s a wonderful, wonderful joy / Our Coppertop battery boy.” As his website says, Blanchard “tells stories with a tender touch to help us laugh and cry at both the human condition and the renewing power of God’s unconditional love.”
THE UNIONVILLE CONNECTION Born in Hartford in 1948, Michael Kelly Blanchard was raised in Unionville (a distinct section of Farmington) from the get-go. A graduate of Farmington High, he attended the iconic Berklee College of Music, attaining the dean’s list. His first and middle names signal the Irish ancestry on both sides of his family. “My father was three-quarters Irish, my mother 100%, so the green gene is pretty predominant,” he says. He met Greta in the spring of 1970 on Boston’s North Shore and they married
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in February 1972. They’ll both turn 72 soon — he in late October, she in early December. Greta was born and raised in Detroit and later in Franklin Village, a nearby suburb, so her musical roots are in Motown. Her favorite artists include Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Michael and Greta initially lived in Collinsville, right next door to Unionville, and moved in ’72 to Newburyport, MA, to facilitate his Berklee education in Boston as she taught at Memorial Elementary School in Salisbury, MA. After returning to Connecticut, their daughter Esther and son Reuben arrived. The family lived in Harwinton, Simsbury and Torrington before moving to Unionville in 1992 — and Michael’s hometown figures prominently in many of his story-songs. “The old adage — ‘Write what you know’ — applies to my love affair with Unionville,” he says. “It is where I grew up and probably will die and has supplied the background material for much of my writings.” One anecdote that stands out: Michael, his brother and father recited (in different years) the Gettysburg Address at the town’s Memorial Day ceremony. “A great honor,” Blanchard affirms, “as all of us had such a high admiration for Abraham Lincoln.”
A RIVER TO REMEMBER “The evocative presence of the Farmington River that flows right down the middle of town will always be a warm source of remembrance for me,” he says. “Fishing with my father, autumn walks along it as a teenager … glassing for hawks and eagles from the three bridges [in town] that cross it.” Steve Hawley has known Michael for five decades. “Farmington High is where our friendship began — his pursuit was music, 6
The MKB File
Michael Kelly Blanchard facts + favorites ———————————————————————————— Number of albums 20 from 1975-2020 New 2020 Album — Twilight Mostly in E Other works Two musical dramas: Gamaliel and Heart Guard • One cantata: Ambassador in Chains • Three novels (not yet published): The Last Umbra, Tree, Invisible • 27 short stories • Musical version of the Stations of the Cross, Waiting at the Station, with paintings by artist Steve Hawley Number of states and countries where you’ve performed 49 states (all except Alaska) plus Canada, Bermuda, Ireland and Germany Number of songs recorded — 200 Number of songs written that have yet to be recorded — Probably 200-plus Favorite spots in the Valley Suburban Park — ruins of a late-1800s amusement park on a hill overlooking Unionville Favorite songwriters when you were a teen Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, Ian Tyson, Joni Mitchell, Noel Paul Stookey (of the iconic folk group Peter, Paul and Mary) Favorite songwriters since then Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Donald Fagen (of the band Steely Dan) Favorites among your songs Holy Land of the Broken Heart, Daddy Cut My Hair, Be Ye Glad — and one of my favorite songs of childhood remembrance is SnowDay
mine was visual arts,” he says. “In those days, thinking of a career in the arts was far from popular.” Michael graduated in 1966, Hawley in ’68. He cites a C.S. Lewis quote: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
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“Michael’s songwriting opens the heart and brings forth the reality of God’s unending love that surrounds us all,” says Hawley, whose paintings are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. “My friendship with Michael is a deep treasure to me lasting and continuing over 50 years.” Michael and Greta likewise have a five-decade connection with The Master’s School, a private school in West Simsbury. She taught 4th and 5th grade for 30 years, and he was musician-in-residence when Master’s debuted in 1970. In 1985, after an ’84-85 return stint as music teacher, Michael established Quail Ministries, the nonprofit that has been the operational awning for his creative work. The cover of Michael’s seminal Love Lives On album features a photo taken in the yard of Simsbury residents Rick and Lynne Schoenhardt, who met Michael in ’70 at Master’s. “We met Greta soon after their wedding,” Lynne says, “and they were close friends as their family grew. They are now our closest friends.”
THE QUAIL CAME Lynne and Rick, who moved to Simsbury in ’61, have served on Quail Ministries’ board since the beginning, with Rick as chairman: “The name Quail comes from one of Michael’s early songs and albums,” he explains. “We see each other often and enjoy their love of the Lord and us,” says Rick, a retired architect who designed numerous landmark buildings in Simsbury and the Valley. “They are wonderful examples of sincere, honest and open human beings. We appreciate their artistic, vocal and creative talents, which are many.” Michael and Greta will surely appreciate the kudos of their friends, yet they’re certainly also aware of their human frailties and imperfections — and his
songwriting confesses this openly, such as these Love of the Father lyrics: “I fumble and fail at Your call / Over and over again, I back my boast to the wall / Then broken and bruised in defeat and disgrace / You honor my loss with a long loving taste / Of Your eternal water that flows through this wasteland You’ve won / The love of the Father as seen in the face of the Son.” In several six-degrees-of-separation convergences — MKB-style — Rick and Lynne have been connected for six decades to Simsbury’s Covenant Presbyterian Church, aka the Barn, where the Blanchards attended in the ’70s and ’80s. They also lived for about two years in an extra Barn manse — “a necessary stopgap just when we needed it,” says Greta. Two veteran educators at the Barn, both longtime Valley residents, were instrumental in establishing Master’s in ’70 — founding headmaster Ralph Mattson of Canton and Adelma “Del” Tomkiel of Simsbury. Mattson died in 2018, Tomkiel in 2012. Death and loss are, certainly, two themes addressed in Michael’s music. The title cut of his A View Out The Window album, on the Diadem label, tells the heartbreaking tale of a daughter who loses her Mom to cancer, yet clings tenaciously to hope — the chorus is printed earlier in this article. Michael recorded three
The Hand That Paints The Day ————————————————————————————
There’s a hand that paints the day As the moments rush, And no colors get away From the Master’s brush. On His canvas stretched to time All the human hues Blend and blur a design only God could choose. There are dreams dabbed in doubt. Hopes washed in pain. There are broken hearts, That leave their mark, A rich crimson stain. There is laughter’s motley joy. Whispers wet with sighs. There are shades of shame, regret’s rain, Running from the eyes. Stroke by stroke the masterpiece Grows in gift and grace, Till this Love’s last line completes The Painter’s tear-stained face. From the album A View Out the Window Words and Music by M.K. Blanchard © Gotz Music/Benson
albums with Nashville-based Diadem from 1989-94, two more with the Goliard label from 1996-98, one with Koinonia Records in 1975, and one with Neworld in 2001 (There is Love, with Stookey). His other 13 albums have been recorded on the Gotz label. What is Gotz, you ask? To be grammatically correct, the question needs to be rephrased: Who is Gotz? Greta is the best source for an accurate answer to this query. “Gotsie — or Gotz — was the nickname that my older brother gave me when I was young because he couldn’t pronounce Greta,” she says. “It became a name I was often called at home by my brother, sister and Dad. When Steve Hawley was designing our Quail album cover, he thought Gotz would look good circling the turntable — and of course I was all about that idea!” Michael completes the story: “So we decided to make the name of the label Gotz Records.” Music and mathematics, the academic gurus say, are inextricably linked. For songwriting fans galore, the following heartfelt equation is a no-brainer: MKB + Gotz = match made in Heaven + www.michaelkellyblanchard.com Bruce Deckert is a five-time award-winning journalist.
Buy a Turkey, Give a Turkey For every Miller Farms Thanksgiving turkey purchased, one will be given to a family in need through Foodshare, our local Feeding America food bank partner. Still enrolling for the 2020-21 school year. Founded in 1970, The Master’s School is an independent, Christian day school enrolling children in preschool through grade 12. Come see what Home feels like at The Master’s School, a leader in Christian Education, where students are well known, well taught, and well loved. 36 Westledge Road, West Simsbury | 860.651.9361 | www.masterschool.org
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Middle school celebrates 50th anniversary By Gene Macy • Avon Historical Society History Teacher • Avon Middle School
THE 2020-21 SCHOOL YEAR marks the 50th anniversary of Avon Middle School on West Avon Road. When it opened in 1970, its unique, distinctive and somewhat controversial round design was a result of the open-classroom movement. “It derives its design from current educational concepts,” said then-Avon Board of Education chairman James Murdock. Superintendent Herbert Pandiscio and principal Myron Eisenhaure were the educational leaders at the time. A former teacher and administrator described the design as a “springboard into a new direction” in middlelevel education, with a “great group of teachers focused on student education.” Classrooms were larger, had removable walls, and were designed to accommodate multiple groups of students and teachers, particularly in the English department where grades 6-8 could be mixed. The Library-Media Center was located in the middle of the second floor, while the cafetorium occupied the center of the first floor — in both cases allowing for easy access by students and faculty from multiple directions. The school’s design was so unusual that it attracted visits by educators from other districts and states.
On Sunday, Oct. 11, 1970, a dedication ceremony was held for the opening of the new school. During construction, which cost $2.7 million, air-conditioning units had to be lifted to the roof by helicopter, but there was a delay due to a heat wave because the helicopter could not lift the machinery. The school opened close to capacity and would continue to need every bit of instructional space until an expansion in ’92. The school’s opening caused a major reconfiguration of the district. The 7th- and 8th-grade junior high relocated down the road from the high school, while 6th-grade classes moved from Towpath, Roaring Brook and Huckleberry Hill elementary schools. Towpath was converted to school district offices. The ’70s marked the early years of steadily growing enrollment that would continue for the next three decades. Under the leadership of principal Jerry Cramp, Avon Middle School was designated a national Blue Ribbon School in the ’80s, and Cramp and music teacher Ron Theriault traveled to the White House and met President Ronald Reagan. In ’92, school additions and alterations included classrooms on the exterior of
the second-floor circular hallway and a Counseling Center between the classrooms and gymnasium. In the late ’90s, under principal Jody Goeler, the school was designated Middle School of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Schools. As Avon’s enrollment grew in the ’90s, the school installed portable classrooms in the parking lot. When Thompson Brook School opened in 2002, all town 6th-graders moved there, leaving the middle school for the 7th- and 8th-graders. In recent years, under principal Marco Famiglietti and current principal Dave Kimball, Avon Middle School continues its tradition of innovation and excellence while faculty, staff and students learn and grow together in Avon’s round schoolhouse. +
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Mildred at the Valley House
House served as lodging for Collins Co. By Kathy Taylor • Canton Town Historian
YOU MAY HAVE READ the book Eloise at The Plaza by Kay Thompson, a children’s story about a precocious 6-year-old girl who lived with her mother on the top floor of The Plaza Hotel in New York City. She entertained herself by making trouble with the guests in the hotel lobby, hallways and elevator. Well, let’s meet “Mildred at the Valley House”! The Valley House was built by the Collins Company as a four-story hotel in 1867. Mildred Bond was about 9 years old when she and her mother moved to the Valley House in 1915, sometime after her father died. They lived there for about six years. Mildred’s mother’s sister, Beatrice Randall, and her husband Earl managed the Valley House — then a boarding house for Collins employees and local teachers. Mildred’s mother assisted with the cleaning and cooking, serving three meals a day for the many boarders and occasional guests who came at lunchtime. In a 1984 interview with members of the Canton Historical Museum, Mildred recounted her time living in the Valley House, which had about 30 bedrooms, two large parlors, and a dining room with three or four large chandeliers. Mildred had her assigned chores and hated her task of cleaning the crystal chandeliers several times per year. She had to stand on the dining room table to accomplish this with a bucket of ammonia and water, because her aunt would not trust her on a ladder. Once, her Aunt Beatrice caught Mildred and her friends on the dumb waiter, which was used to move food from the basement kitchen to the carving room outside the second-floor dining room. Mildred and her girlfriends also loved sliding down the six flights of stair banisters, wearing out many pairs of pants. When her aunt
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found out, she put a stop to it. Mildred would grumble to herself as she brushed and dusted all the stairwells and made the many beds. Despite all of this, she enjoyed her time growing up in Collinsville and made many lifetime friends. She recounted how her aunt would require the Collins Company employee boarders to open a bank account across the street at Collinsville Savings Society. On payday, they would line up outside her apartment door with their bank books and wages. She would then take the required amount for room and board, give them $1 to spend for the week, and put the rest in their bank accounts. If they didn’t like it, she told them they could “live somewhere else!” Some did leave, but many came back and thanked her for helping them build up some savings. When Mildred was 15 years old, her mother remarried, and they moved to Burlington, Vermont. Later, Mildred returned to Collinsville and married John Case in 1928. Together they operated John O. Case’s Meats and Groceries in downtown Collinsville for 22 years. The Valley House is a condominium today. +
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SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTS
MKB’s muse: ‘Anywhere truth surfaces in human narrative’ Page 4 — Cover story on songwriter Michael Kelly Blanchard Page 6 — The MKB File Page 12 — MKB’s 50-Year History with The Master’s School Special to Today Magazine
In an exclusive Q&A with Today Magazine, Michael Kelly Blanchard reflects on a 50-year career in music — he is a Farmington resident and native (Unionville, to be exact) Many of your songs tell cogent stories. What do you see as the benefits of storytelling and stories? A good story is rather like my hometown of Unionville. You can come to the center of it from five different directions. From each road in or out, the town is seen from a different perspective. The same concept applies with the latent truth of a truly good story. Each person takes something different from it, comes at it from a different direction. What do you see as the benefit of the arts in general?
iconic artery that’s served and blessed the town from its early mill and hydropower days to its present outside diner’s backdrop for the newly opened Wood-nTap (formerly Apricots Restaurant).
This in truth is the beauty of art in general. It enables one to experience truth in a non-didactic, more intuitive way. In 10 words or less: Why do you write songs? To express the joy, longing and loss of the heart. What inspires your songwriting — is there a primary inspiration? Anywhere truth surfaces in the human narrative. Your best memories of growing up in Unionville? The evocative presence of the Farmington River that flows right down the middle of town will always be a warm source of remembrance for me. Fishing with my father; autumn walks along it as a teenager with my good friend Dennis Flaherty; glassing for hawks and eagles from the three bridges that cross it to the north, in the middle and to the south of town. It’s an
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Ah, but then, of course, there was 1955! Etched in my mind during the ’55 flood, from a seat in our 1948 Buick parked just up from Sanford and Hawley on Route 167, as a 6-year-old I watched whole houses floating by as Hurricane Diane turned the river into a ravaging, deadly torrent. What stands out from your Farmington schooldays? Two exceptional educators: I vividly remember the wonderfully kind, guitarstrumming Union School principal John McManama coming to our third-grade classroom to sing a duet with the school’s secretary, of Love Me Tender, which was Elvis’ latest hit in 1956. Ralph Mattson was the art teacher and drama director for Farmington High School. When I complained about a segment of a part he’d cast me in as continued on page 14
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WHEN GRANBY’S superintendent took the reins in January, who foresaw that two months later schools nationwide would go into online-only mode due to a new disease called COVID-19? A Connecticut educator for 25-plus years, Dr. Jordan Grossman came to Granby from his role as Canton’s assistant superintendent. Before that, he was the Canton Intermediate School principal and Canton High assistant principal. He began his career as a teacher and dean at Manchester High. Born infor Brooklyn and raised in errors) responsible grammatical Manchester, Grossman graduated magna cum laude in 1994 from Southern Connecticut State (B.S., health and physical education). His master’s degree is from CCSU and his doctorate is from UConn. Here is his Q&A with Today Magazine:
Grossman navigates move from Canton to Granby Your favorite teachers? Numerous educators played a significant role in my life. My mother, who was a teacher, had the biggest impact on who I am today. Most essential attributes for an educator? Educators must have patience, collaboration skills, respect for individual differences, leadership, courage and the ability to face challenges.
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Two COVID queries: 1. Should students be required to wear masks in school? 2. What do you see as best COVID practices this school year? 1. Yes, all Granby students are required to use face coverings that completely cover their nose and mouth when they are inside the school building or on school grounds, even when social distancing is maintained.
ew, please sign and mark Why did you decide to go opriate box below. into education? 2. The key to the best COVID practices is
Your take on the smartphone revolution and its impact on education? There is definitely a place for technology in our educational system, but we must continue to work with students on handwriting and reading. The greatest obstacle students face today — and how can we help them overcome it? The world for students is changing so quickly and we must continue to have them enjoy the moment. Favorite TV shows:
I do not watch too much TV, but enjoy Noris Christensen watching PGA golf. 374 Hopmeadow Street • Simsbury, CT 06089
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• Raise Your Game — by Alan Stein Jr. • Switch: How To Change Things When Preview Only Change is Hard — by Chip and Dan Heath I always knew that I wanted to work with to keep the health and safety of students The Scientific Secrets of Perfect children and try to have a positive impact (Layout includesofaany margin clear of text• When: and graphics and staff at the forefront decisions Timing — by Daniel Pink + on their lives. as that this information may be covered by frame and/or clips during installation) need to be made.
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MKB-Master’s bond embraces 5 decades By Bruce Deckert Editor-in-Chief • Today Magazine
TO SAY THAT the history of Michael Kelly Blanchard’s family has coincided with the history of The Master’s School — the West Simsbury private school celebrating its 50th anniversary this year — is akin to saying that Farmington Avenue and Route 4 share asphalt ... and these roads are one and the same through most of Farmington. Michael (aka MKB) was Master’s musician-in-residence when the school opened in September 1970, serving for four years — two school years (1970-72) before he attended Berklee College of Music (1972-75) and then two more after (197577). Serendipitously, Blanchard’s close friend Steve Hawley was Master’s artist-inresidence the school’s first year. They graduated from Farmington High School: Blanchard in ’66, Hawley in ’68. The man who hired the musician and the artist? Ralph Mattson, Master’s founding headmaster — the longtime Canton resident taught art and humanities at Farmington High for 10 years, including Hawley’s and Blanchard’s stints … and a Connecticut Teacher of the Year honor. A resident and native of Farmington —
More MKB stories Pages 4 + 10
more specifically, Unionville — Michael also was a music teacher at Master’s in Greta taught at Master’s for 30 years, 1984-85. Later in and Michael was on the first staff in 1970. ’85 he launched Quail Ministries, the nonprofit that has been the underpinning Michael and his wife Greta met in ’70 for his songwriting and other creative work. through Ralph’s brother Stan Mattson, who Longtime Simsbury resident Adelma was then one of Greta’s college professors. “Del” Tomkiel, whose career in education In 1979, Stan became Master’s second spanned nearly 70 years, was another headmaster. Master’s founder. Earlier, she taught in the Greta was a 4th- and 5th-grade teacher Avon public schools. Tomkiel died in 2012, at Master’s for 30 years, retiring in June Mattson in 2018. 2019, and worked in development part-time In the school’s early days, Mattson from 1976-79 under Ralph Mattson. Her asked Michael to think of a concise phrase further résumé: She was the first director of that articulates Master’s mission — and he the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Unionville, coined the signature slogan, “Education during its initial year, and served as an from the inside out.” adoption-agency caseworker. And she has The Master’s School began in September been an integral part of Michael’s performing 1970 at the site of the former South School and recording career, as a backup singer in in Simsbury. Since 1980, the school has concerts and on his 20 albums over a 50resided on a picturesque campus in West year career. Simsbury, nestled on a wooded Westledge “Greta has the sort of mellow alto Road hill. harmony voice that can make anyone
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sound good,” Michael says. “She is also very unique in her choice of notes when she arranges a harmony — it always sounds great but not predictable.” Meanwhile, their daughter Esther (1996) and son Reuben (2000) are Master’s graduates who enumerate plentiful reasons for gratitude regarding their formative years. Asked what they value most about their parents, they sound some common themes. “They found parenting to be a wild and fun adventure, not a nuisance or something to check off a list, and I feel profoundly grateful for this,” says Esther, a 42-year-old Brooklyn resident and nurse supervisor in NYC. “They encouraged our creativity, to talk things out when we were working through stuff and not bottle it all up. … They both chose professions that they loved and didn’t compromise on that, and I think the world is better because of it.” Reuben offers, “There’s so much I love about them — but I really love how they raised us. They encouraged me to express myself, and thankfully never cared about my grades as long as I had put in the effort. … They’re definitely both my role models.” They likewise both appreciate their Dad’s music. Esther says the last time she attended one of his concerts, she was moved to tears “along with the rest of the audience — I’ve heard his songs many times, but they still get me every time.” His songwriting encourages people to open themselves “to emotions they have long buried or didn’t even know were there,”
she adds. “It also really works when my folks harmonize together.” Reuben, a 38-year-old L.A. resident and writer, admires his Dad’s musicianship: “On a purely musical level, I really love the chord changes he picks — it’s often not what I’m expecting, it always is interesting, and keeps me guessing. I also love that he has a style that is truly his own. He certainly has his influences, but his songs are undeniably MKB songs.”
“He doesn’t tell you what to think … and doesn’t preach — he makes you think” — Greta Blanchard This son’s and daughter’s appreciation naturally extends to their Mom’s career as a teacher. “One of my favorite things about her teaching style was that she truly wanted the students to learn,” says Reuben, who was in Greta’s class as a 4th- and 5th-grader. “It was never about checking off boxes of a teaching to-do list. She wanted to make sure students were actually learning.” He went to Master’s from grades K-12. “I never had her as a teacher,” Esther notes, “but I stopped counting the amount of folks of all ages who have come up to me over the years saying what an incredible teacher she was, or how she changed learning for them. She is a teacher in
everything she does, and just makes life and learning fun.” Meanwhile, Greta says she especially appreciates Michael’s poetic lyrics: “He doesn’t tell you what to think, doesn’t tell you what he means, and doesn’t preach. He makes you think. And when he writes his music, he arranges it on the piano or guitar at the same time — beautiful arrangements!” Collaborating with her husband musically has also been meaningful. “Michael respects my ability to harmonize with his songs, even when we disagree,” says Greta, a 1970 graduate of Gordon College in Wenham, MA (B.S., education). “He often asks for my response to his lyrics and is open to my critique. Recording, to me, has generally been an exhilarating experience, but I do just love to sing, harmonizing with whatever I hear.” Their collaboration extended to the classroom. During Greta’s career at Master’s, for many years Michael wrote a tune for her class — or for the whole Lower School — that students sang at their final assembly, often with him. “A few times we were able to record the song at the Tapeworks in Hartford as a class field trip,” she says. Esther and Reuben have likewise made special-guest appearances on MKB albums. It’s safe to say that few teachers and schools have been able to offer their students the educational perk of being recording artists. +
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HIGH FIVE — Five of Michael Blanchard’s 20 album covers
MKB — continued from page 10 “dated and corny” he agreed and said, “Rewrite it!” I did — and it was kept in for all the performances. It was my first real rush as a writer. Most fulfilling aspect of your career in music? The effect the music has had on generations of people is the most meaningful thing to me. Adults write about how their parents played my CDs through their growing-up years. It is a high honor to be part of the soundtrack of a life. A woman wrote recently to say my CD Mercy in the Maze was playing when her father (a longtime friend and fan) passed away. I well up just thinking about it. What more could a songwriter ask of his craft? Your biggest obstacle — and how have you been able to overcome it? One of the biggest obstacles to my career as an artist has been show business. It has rules and dos and don’ts that most of the time go against the natural drive to create and communicate. A necessary evil, some might claim, to let the world hear what you’ve got to say, but it comes at a cost even for a small-time, flying-under-thepopular-radar folksinger like me. “Dream merchants” is the term I’ve used for years to describe the allure and curse of the PR piece of making music. How old were you when you wrote your first song — have you recorded or performed this song? I was about 15 when I wrote my first song, And the Wind is Free. I was in a folk group, the New World Singers. Mike DeLisa and Connie Royko were the others in the group — we were Peter, Paul and Mary wannabes. We made a recording of mostly folk covers, but did include my original as the final cut.
Fellow musicians you’ve enjoyed working with during your career? Noel Paul Stookey, who has been a mentor of mine — he’s the Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary (the iconic folk group) • Buddy Greene (songwriter, world-class harmonica player) • Bob Bennett (songwriter) • Joe Nerney (saxophone, harmonica, recorder, vocalist) • Joe Grieco (keyboard, arranger, vocalist) • Jon Couch (orchestrator) Your most memorable concerts? On a rainy Monday night in Dublin, in the upper room of a pub, I did what I swore I would never do when performing in Ireland: I sang an old Irish lullaby to the Irish … what gall! The tune was called The Castle of Dromore and I wasn’t halfway through the first line when the entire room of maybe 100 folks spontaneously sang the song back to me as I accompanied them on my guitar. Woof, what a glorious moment! Do you have favorites among your songs — what’s on the short list? The Holy Land of the Broken Heart, Daddy Cut My Hair, Be Ye Glad — and one of my favorite songs of childhood remembrance is SnowDay. Every winter it gets some radio airplay thanks to Lite 100.5 FM and my good friend Allan Camp (longtime WRCH program director and morning-show host). These days it’s something of a historical artifact as it recounts the desperate wait-out by the radio of families the morning of a big snow. WTIC’s Bob Steele was the DJ with the “good news.” Nowadays parents and kids get a text on their smartphones. What hasn’t changed through the years, however, is the primal excitement when, in whatever form, a snow day is announced.
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Goals for the next 5 years? I’ll be 72 on the 23rd of October. “Goals” feel a tad selfish when living that long with just a few health “hiccups” along the way. Just grateful for the ride thus far is closer to the truth. Family — Married for 48 years to Greta, a true blessing in my life. We have two children, Esther and Reuben. My parents, Ann and Bernie Blanchard, lived their married life in Unionville. My Mom was an English teacher at Avon High School and Dad worked for the Connecticut utilities. She was a Shakespeare specialist and he a fiddler extraordinaire. How have you sensed and experienced the love and presence of God? I align my awareness of God to the experience of a child. Parents can certainly try to explain God in terms a child might understand, but the consistent love they show to that child physically, emotionally will do more to impact the awareness and comfort of divine love in their children’s heart than any religious words or rituals. Ideally, of course, the two should go hand in hand, but as St. Paul suggests, without love the rest is like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1 — apologies to my drummer friends) So as an elder adult, I still contend my sense and experience of God is most deeply felt through the love I’ve received and receive and have given. When your human experience has included intense pain, how have you been able to maintain faith in the goodness and love of God? So many ways to address this subjectively complex question, but St. Peter’s response to Jesus, when asked if he too was going to leave when most of the followers had had enough, says it best. (Footnote: Christ had been metaphorically talking about eating his body and drinking his blood as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.) Pete simply said, ”Where would I go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) God’s goodness and mercy (love) is not a ticket to a pain-free life, but it can be a balm for the wounds of that life and, according to Peter, is the only viable “game in town” as we walk through this confusing “vale of tears.”
In conjunction with your Christian faith, how does the seeming paradox of love expressed through sacrificial suffering give you hope? Well, it’s a mystery, but for me it comes back to the human component. If you’ve ever had someone truly sacrifice something of themselves for you, it’s quite remarkable what it does for your soul. Maybe as a kid, someone took the fall for something you did; or maybe in a love relationship your lover gave up a dream so that you can realize yours; or maybe you’ve been forgiven for a betrayal of trust; hey, even someone paying it forward and springing for your coffee in the Dunkie’s drive-through. It just lifts your spirit, doesn’t it? You think maybe what you’ve always hoped was true about love, sort of, maybe … is! Now if I were to overlay that wonderful concept with the tenets of my particular Christian faith, it might read like this song of mine: The Applause of God Tommy’s bedroom window looked down upon the lawn. He’d wake with every wind blow, watch, waiting for his mom. Third shift ICU nurse; an hour to commute. Then she drove a school bus, they’d catch up there on her route. Same week he got his scholarship, she was diagnosed. The treatment mostly made her sick; he stayed home to be close. Afterwards she couldn’t work; cut out coupons, cooked the meals. Days he was a hotel clerk, after dinner they’d watch “The Wheel.” Her last months they had hospice, he read stories to calm her fears. There was one she liked where Jesus told how his Daddy cheered For goodness that was hidden, kindness without claim. “Mom, that’s how you’ve given.” “Ah, Tommy you’re the same.” When God applauds it’s a crowd of One Whispered awe for a kingdom come With a stealth of grace for a noble cause Down a mother’s face (rolls) the applause of God. + From new album – Twilight michaelkellyblanchard.com
PT on the QT? Don’t overlook PT exams By Dr. Brian A. Magna • DPT, ATC Magna Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine
ANNUAL HEALTH EXAMS are one of the best ways to take charge of your health. Regular visits can help find problems early, or before they start, when the chances of improving are increased. Routine checkups with a physician and dentist are important, but so are annual physicals with a physical therapist. Annual PT physicals are targeted toward your musculoskeletal system and help to: • Optimize movement and promote health, wellness and fitness by examining strength, range of motion and flexibility. • Improve cardiovascular health and prevent heart disease. • Decrease risk of future injuries. • Identify fall risk and balance issues. • Slow the regression of body functions.
• Decrease daily aches and pains. • Review current levels of fitness and prepare you for an exercise routine or sporting event. Physical therapists are licensed healthcare professionals trained in the evaluation and treatment of bodily conditions and injuries. They are able to use your exam results to determine further action — including required exercise, specialty referral or needed physical therapy. Talk to your physician about scheduling an annual PT physical. Typically, no referral is needed, and a copy of your exam is sent to your primary care physician to complete your health profile. Magna Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Center — Avon: 679-0430 Canton: 352-2463 — www.magnapt.com
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TODAY MAGAZINE – www.TodayPublishing.net – OCTOBER 2020
WITH KEVIN WITKOS, CONNECTICUT WILL GET BACK TO WORK Kevin Witkos has proven to be the experienced leader we need to…
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