wcms logoFounder and Director Emerita of the Winchester Community Music School, a nonprofit organization now serving more than 850 students from over 30 towns, including Woburn, Stoneham, Lexington, Medford, Arlington, and Burlington. With over 30 years of excellence in music education, an exceptional faculty, and a state-of-the-art facility, the Music School provides the finest professional instruction to students, and a world of music to our community and beyond!

Interview with Corie Nichols

Tell me a little about yourself and how you started the Winchester Community Music School.

I moved to Winchester with my husband and daughter in 1962 and did a number of volunteer things in town while my children attended the public schools here. After my daughter had left for college and my son was getting close to that point, I thought I could really focus on one thing. I knew that I wanted to do something that would support  music in town as well as  support the public schools. I did not want to do anything that would provide people with an excuse to cut the school budget. I did want to enhance and create a community-wide appreciation of music, both for people who might go on in music, and for people who might become audience members, people loving music and learning more about it. I talked first to the Director of Music in the public schools and then talked to the director of a nearby community music school in Belmont who agreed to help me get started in Winchester. That’s how we started in 1981, with three instruments—flute, trombone, and percussion—and three teachers.The program developed incrementally. After 17 years we bought a building, and now there are 850 students and more than 60 teachers.

When you first started, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced in trying to build this organization?

I think part of the challenge was bringing out the interest in music that existed all over town, but didn’t really have a way to express itself. It wasn’t obvious that so many people cared about music. The high school marching band was thriving, but the chorus and the orchestra weren’t at that point. We also had to find space to do what we wanted to do. Because we were sponsored by the McCall Middle School Parent Association, we were able to use that school which we did for years. One year there was a flood, and the High School and Middle School went on double sessions. We couldn’t use the McCall classrooms. Fortunately, the Lincoln School and the First Congregational Church offered us space. And then, of course, the huge challenge became finding a space when we realized we had to have our own home.

What have been some of the biggest highlights so far?

Seeing people grow in this setting. To learn with music, to discover that if you work on something a little bit— gradually, gradually, gradually—you could create something beautiful. You have accomplished this yourself, and you can share it with other people. Seeing parents be delighted with what their children could become.

Learning new things: I didn’t know a thing about music therapy before we started. We hired a music therapist, and the Music School has had a music therapist ever since. A music therapist is able to help students with everything from speech problems to expression to physical coordination. The individual stories are phenomenal: for example, the  non-verbal student who began to work through his emotions playing the bongo drums.

Another thing that I loved was that the faculty turned out to be quite international. When I left, the faculty of 60 included people from 13 countries: Japan, China, Korea, Poland, France, Germany, Romania—the list went on and on.

What do you think has been Winchester Community Music School’s biggest contribution to Winchester?
It’s become a resource in town for all ages—a place to learn, to master an instrument, to take singing lessons, or any one of the other  various offerings. Or, simply a welcoming place to come and enjoy music presented by the students and by their talented teachers. The music school has free concerts during the year, and its performances have branched out to other venues so there are children’s concerts and adult concerts in many other settings.
What do you want the legacy of the Music School to be in Winchester?

I think to continue to provide the high level of teaching that the Music School offers. The teachers are wonderful there, and they encourage students of all ages and at all levels of interest and ability. The School offers a very broad, inclusive community program. The faculty is very  professionally skilled, both in teaching and performing. The other part of the legacy is to continue to collaborate, to work with other residents,  with our  schools, and to model what cooperative community living can be through this one area, music.

Do you think being a woman has impacted how people view you as a business person, as someone who started a non-profit? And if so, how and if not, why not?

I think a couple of things helped me. One is that I had lived here for a number of years and had done quite a bit of volunteer work in the schools and with ABC,  and here and there with other organizations. I was known. I like people and some people respond similarly. I enjoy the organizing.  I never felt that being a woman was a hindrance in any way. It might have been different if I had just come in brand new; that might have been different. I didn’t come in as a business person, I came in as an appreciator of music and somebody with energy and time to spend in new way.

Who is one woman who has inspired you?

Well, I think Sandy Thompson. It was unbelievably wonderful for me to work with her because people responded to her so positively. She was wonderful at leading group discussions and chairing a board and people trusted her. So, in the very beginning if they didn’t know me, they knew Sandy and were ready to have positive reactions to what we were doing. And she worked extremely hard. To have somebody who cared about the mission and was willing to devote so much time over a long period,  that was very inspiring.

Do you have any advice for female entrepreneurs?

It has helped me to believe wholeheartedly in what I was doing, and that belief grew as I experienced what music was doing for the students and their parents. I saw story after story after story. It was believing in what I was doing, being willing to work hard, and then being very grateful for the generosity of other people who helped me.