Anonymous Gift is “Transformative” for Northampton Community Music Center

When Jason Trotta read the email that a donor had made an anonymous gift through the Community Foundation to pay off Northampton Community Music Center’s $200,000 mortgage, he fell off his chair — literally.

“I saw it and I read it and felt all the blood rush out of my head. And then I read it again and lost my balance and fell off my chair. I was laughing at myself,” recalled Trotta, the Center’s executive director. “I was like, is this a dream?”

Trotta had been at the helm for 18 years as the Music Center labored to establish a permanent home. In January 2020, a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated its purchase of the former South Street Elementary School from the City of Northampton. For the Music Center, it was the culmination of more than 20 years leasing the space and fundraising for costly renovations. Finally, the historic building had been brought up to code and outfitted for the Center’s music lessons, classes, and performances.

Then, disaster struck. Just two months after the building purchase, the pandemic forced its shutdown.

“Things got really hard,” Trotta said. “We were on this road to establishing all these great things. And the pandemic threw a big monkey wrench into everything we built up. We did a lot of teaching remotely, as much as we could. All our ensemble programs and choruses went on hiatus and our enrollment took a dip.”

“And all of a sudden it was absolute silence in our Center and no sense of togetherness,” added Trotta. “Even though the teachers did an amazing job doing everything they could over Zoom, it wasn’t the same. Music is something that’s meant to be experienced together. And so everybody struggled — logistically and emotionally.”

The Music Center’s leadership immediately started paring down expenses. “We were trying to figure out how we were going to get through this,” Trotta said. “But it was pretty clear that philanthropy was going to be necessary to fill the gap in our budget. So, some wonderful angel out there who cares about the Music Center and knew our situation must have said, ‘Here’s something concrete I can do that will save this organization from paying a mortgage for the next 15 years.’”

“The gift is nothing less than transformative for us. It’s an amazing feeling to know we no longer have a mortgage expense, especially at a really difficult time.”

Trotta also points to the “enormous generosity” from the community, government loans, and a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in keeping the Center afloat during the pandemic.

As the pandemic wanes, Trotta is excited to grow the Music Center’s unique offerings, including programs for teen mothers and children with autism, and performances for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Programs for refugee families new to the area are also in the works. “Even if English isn’t one’s first language, everyone understands music on a human level. So, music is a great way for a community to welcome these families and for those families to connect with their new neighbors,” he said.

Trotta is optimistic about the Music Center’s future. “The more we’re freed up from the financial chains that hold us back, the more we can do.”

Photo: The “Spooky Suzuki” Halloween concert at the Northampton Community Music Center. The Suzuki method, offered at the Center on violin, viola, cello, and guitar allows a child to begin study at a very early age because the initial learning is through listening rather than reading.