Rugby Catches On in Bay State High Schools

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Senior Captain Joe Kennedy lines up a conversion kick after a Milton score

 

The U.S. is getting on the bandwagon of one of the world’s most popular sports, and it’s exploding here in Eastern Massachusetts, most recently in Milton.

Rugby, a sport with a reputation for gruff brutality, has long been popular in American colleges, but has recently seen a rash of growth in high schools and even youth levels. It is the nation’s second fastest growing team sport, according to a 2012 report by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, with participation numbers growing 30 percent since 2008. (Lacrosse was up 37.7 percent.) Over 1 million Americans are playing organized rugby.

Milton High School’s team, officially the Milton High School Rugby Football Club, or MHSRFC, has doubled in size each year since its inception in 2011, with 52 team members on the 2013 spring squad, its second year as a varsity sport.

The team has also doubled its win totals, with two wins in its inaugural year, four last season and six so far in 2013, with another division game and the championship still to come. Milton currently sits atop the Eastern Massachusetts Division 2 standings with a 4-1 record, with hopes of bringing home the cup from the May 25 championships in Fort Devens, Mass., and they have beaten two teams from the division above them during the season. Coach Joe Dolan expects to move up to Division 1A next spring, where competition will be tougher.

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Senior Neiko Fortes (in red, left) fights against a tackler while senior Greg Rodney looks to help out.

On May 10, Milton hosted over 100 rugby players in an inaugural, four-team “Sevens” tournament, which means that each team has seven players on the field, as opposed to the regular 15 per side. This pared-down, faster and wide-open version of the game has played a large role in the sport’s growth, with rugby sevens entered as an Olympic sport for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, and a world tour of sevens teams from the world’s best rugby nations frequently televised on the NBC Sports network. (Believe it or not, the U.S. is the reigning Olympic rugby champion, having won the gold medal the last time the game was played in 1924.)

Dolan, a resident who teaches at Pierce Middle School, is a long-time member of the Boston Rugby Club and coached rugby for 20 years at Brookline High School before coming on board to get Milton’s program going. He hopes to develop a town program of touch rugby (called Rookie Rugby for those under 14) over the next five years. He may even have a bit of a head start, as Gaelic football, a cross between rugby and soccer, has had a youth league in town since 2009. Men’s club rugby teams in the area have established youth programs in the past few years, such as the Boston Irish Wolfhounds in Canton and the Mystic River Rugby Club in Malden.

And it’s not just for boys. While there are 19 boys varsity teams in eastern Massachusetts, six high schools have girls squads as well, and Milton has had a few girls on their team as well. “Once they get knocked down by the girls, that whole gender thing disappears,” said Dolan.

In addition to the fun of the game itself, there is a set of ethics surrounding the sport that is an attractive alternative to many conventional American sports. Inclusivity is important, as is leaving any animosity on the field, say the players. After beating each other up in competition, teams share food and conversation with each other after every match, a tradition deeply ingrained in the game.

Players also feel the sport opens doors for them. “Everywhere you go in the world there is a rugby club for a player to join,” said junior Tim O’Connor. “Coach Dolan always tells us that if we ever go to a foreign country to find and join a club as soon as possible, as it is an easy way to get to meet new people. Every team is like a family.”

“No matter where you go in the world playing rugby you will always be treated with respect by your opponents,” said senior Captain Joe Kennedy, who traveled with O’Connor to Bermuda over spring break on a trip with the Boston Rugby Club’s Under-19 team.

Concluded O’Connor, “We went down [to Bermuda] and won both of our matches … and had a great time. This is all at the age of 16, I can’t wait to see where this game will take me.”

For information on Massachusetts high school rugby visit www.myrugby.org, and to go see some men’s club teams, visit www.nerfu.org.

With Talent and Heart, Kingston’s “Last Call” Is Poised to Make Some Noise

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There’s a certain chemistry, a balance between a diverse set of skills and being on the same page, that seems to serve (and have served) as the bedrock for a huge number of successful bands.

It has something to do with open-hearted, charismatic vocalists, intense, creative songwriters that seem to pluck magic out of the air, and an addictive spice and savvy that glues the whole thing together.

“Last Call,” a three-year-old dub/funk/hip-hop band out of Kingston that has been steadily growing in popularity along the South Shore and recently in Boston, has brewed up a sound and story and has the pieces that make a group compelling over a period of time.

Going from playing backyard barbecues to headlining the Middle East and competing in the Hard Rock Café’s battle of the bands, this five-member group that formed from family connections and neighbors, brings the west coast, Long Beach rock/reggae sound to the Northeast, combining the blue collar, free-spirited, rebellious-yet-supportive heart of bands like Sublime and Red Hot Chili Peppers with the persevering attitude that is common to a place that often gets buried in 25 inches of snow.

 


 

Guitarist Johnny Alves and bassist Mark King with their heads down, concentrating on perfection, lead-singer Adam Frates’ square frame pacing across the stage with mic in hand, drummer and rap-vocalist Mike D’s ever-present smile emanating from the back, and DJ Darren “Caucajion” bobbing and contorting behind his turn tables, Last Call’s stage presence is engaging.

They play a mix of cover songs – the best dead-ringer for Sublime and Bradley Nowell I have ever heard – and original tunes, with a five-song LP out now, and a ten-song album being cleaned up for release in the coming months.

 

 

Bassist King, the youngest of the group at 21, brings a funky backdrop to the plucky, catchy melodies layed down by Alves, whose infectious riffs form the core of most of the band’s song-writing.

Lyrically, Frates and Mike D split the duties, singing about their lives, the realities of having full-time jobs, (which all members except King have at this writing, among them directing a funeral parlor, running a flooring company and working at a commercial suspended lighting company) what it takes to chase down your dreams and drinking beer and smoking at back yard barbecues.

Caucajion lays in samples, scratches and recorded percussion with great touch and timing, giving the music an other-worldly feel. The entire package is a sound that anyone familiar with Sublime, 311, Slightly Stoopid or the Chili Peppers will connect with immediately.

Both guitarists are obviously talented, and are students of music; King loves listening to a wide variety, including jazz and “weird Berkley [College of Music] stuff,” while Alves loves jam bands like Humphries McGee – and also told me that if given tens of thousands of dollars for a new guitar, he would keep the one he’s got, which was handed down to him and has the pick guard falling off, and restore it.

 

Last Call Band

Back row, Cucajion and King; front row, Frates, Mike D and Alves

 

The dub, reggae and hip-hop come from Frates, who tells me, “Reggae, dub, it’s my life. … Sublime, Brad Nowell was a real inspiration to me,” and Mike D, who was inspired to write by the way Tupac put his life story into lyrics, and originally got hooked on Boys II Men and Bel Biv Devoe, a fact which he states proudly.

The two vocalists, who are the original founders of the band, are the torch-bearers of communicating the heart of the band to the audience. “We know how tough this life can be, every single one of us,” says the drummer. “We go to work, every single day, and at the end of the job, pack our equipment, go practice, come home, go to bed, wake up, go to work, play the show. We talk about how tough it is to achieve your dreams, and if you don’t do it now, you may never reach it. It’s about working hard, never giving up when you’re getting beat up by life and it seems impossible. Keep pushing through. That’s why people can relate. All our friends have jobs. Blue collar, plumbers, electricians, claimers. So you got to be able to relate to what’s going on.” Appropriately, “Stick Wit It” and “Rock Steady” are the names of two of the songs on the LP.

And the DJ brings an eclectic, old-school sensibility to the process, having been rocked by the wave created by Run DMC’s earth-shaking rock-rap collaboration with Aerosmith, as well as Herbie Hancock and Grand Master Flash, later getting into reggae legends like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, who are both major influences on the entire band.

 

A nice video bio from the band (Contains mature content)

 

There’s nothing inauthentic about these guys, who seem to genuinely like each other, which is a good thing since Frates is married to Mike D’s sister, King’s sister is good friends with Mike D’s fiancée, and three of them are next-door neighbors. In an era where so much of the music we hear is prefabricated to nab a particular demographic, bands like this, who want to show you their soul, connect and have a good time, (and of course make some money, too) are beyond inspiring – they’re comforting.

“This is our one life, this is the path that we chose,” defiantly states one refrain from some of their new music. This is a crew who is making no apologies, and makes an effort to live up to its ideals, playing multiple benefits a year for house fire victims and the disabled, and spending a large chunk of their time at each others’ families’ birthdays and other celebrations, while finding the time to enjoy life.

“An expression of life, that’s all music is,” says Mike D. “How else can they know us unless we describe it right?”

You can find out more about Last Call, get their gear, listen to and buy their music and find out about future shows and news at www.WeAreLastCall.com

 

Breathtaking Mass Audubon Photo Contest Winners, Part 1

For your viewing pleasure, here are the winners of Mass Audubon’s “Your Great Outdoors” 2012 photo contest.

Incredible photographs of the beautiful area we live in, by professionals, amateurs and young people. Winners at each level were selected for six categories: Birds, Other Wildlife, Plants, Landscape, People in Nature, and Artistically Modified.

As you can see, we live in an amazing place full of amazing, talented people. Enjoy.

Grand Prize
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This beautiful shot was taken by amateur photographer Ken Lee. From the “Birds” Category.

Birds
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Photo by Evan Lipton. Youth.

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Photo by Lee Fortier. Professional.

Other Wildlife

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Photo by Alyssa Mattei. Youth.

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Photo by Richard Kenyon. Amateur.

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Photo by Mary Dineen. Professional.

…more great photography in Part II. Click here to go there. Next up from the Mass Audubon contest, Plants and Landscapes.


Have a favorite?
Tell us about it in our comments section.


All photographs are copyright to their respective photographers. Photos posted with permission of Mass Audubon.

 

Breathtaking Mass Audubon Photo Contest Winners, Part 2

More phenomenal photography of nature in Massachusetts, thanks to the Mass Audubon’s 2012 “Your Great Outdoors” photo contest.

Next up, “Plants” and “Landscape.”

Plants
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Photo by Maya Grubner. Youth.

121212Plant_amateur_Barbara
Photo by Barbara K. Mindell. Amateur.

121212Plants_pro_LucyWightm
Photo by Lucy Wightman. Professional.

Landscape
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Photo by Elaine Wall. Youth.

121212landscape_amateur_RZoPhoto by Ronald Reynolds. Amateur.

121212Landscape_pro_Allison
Photo by Allison White. Professional.

…more great photography in Part III. Click here to go there. Next up from the Mass Audubon contest, People in Nature and Artistically Modified photos.


Have a favorite?
Tell us in our comments section.


All photographs are copyright to their respective photographers. Photos posted with permission of Mass Audubon.

 

Breathtaking Mass Audubon Photo Contest Winners, Part 3

More phenomenal photography of nature in Massachusetts, thanks to the Mass Audubon’s 2012 “Your Great Outdoors” photo contest.

Next up, “People in Nature” and “Artistically Altered.”

People in Nature
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Photo by Krishna Canning. Youth.

121212People_amateur_PaulBl
Photo by Paul Blankman. Amateur.

121212People_pro_JenniferCh
Photo by Jennifer Childs. Professional.

Artistically Altered

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Photo by Caroline DiNapoli. Youth.

121212Art_amateur_JayneCarn
Photo by Jayne Carney. Amateur.

121212Art_pro_JenniferZZChi
Photo by Jennifer Childs. Professional.

Congratulations to all the photographers. Truly inspiring.


Which ones were your favorites?
Tell us in our comments section.


All photographs are copyright to their respective photographers. Photos posted with permission of Mass Audubon.

 

Watergate Reporter Gets Dirty in Bridgewater

woodwardHow does one of the most (if not the most) famous and influential journalists of the past 40 years feel about journalism today?

The same way a lot of us do.

“I’m not sure those of us in the news business are up to the task of giving people the information they need,” were Bob Woodward’s exact words Monday night when he came to Bridgewater State University to give a talk as part of their President’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

The legendary twice-Pulitzered newsman, who, along with Carl Bernstein, exposed President Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal, was full of opinions and anecdotes while he spoke on a wide range of topics, from getting his start in journalism (guess whom was let go by The Washington Post a few years before being rehired) to President Obama (“I’m not sure he understands the power of the Presidency.”) to the internet. (“Privacy is over.”)

It was both scary and reassuring to hear this kind of naked truth from the mouth of someone with so much insider knowledge of our government and its major players, reassuring only in that it makes me feel less crazy.

Woodward is now nearly 70, having authored books about each of the last three presidents, among some 12 number-one national best sellers. His most recent work, “The Price of Politics,” excavates the 2009 debt-ceiling debacle (for it surely was and continues to be just that), published just in time for another round of budgetary brinksmanship.

The speaker, however, did not focus his lecture on this acute issue, aside from acknowledging its dire nature and the ridiculousness of Congress’ inability to do anything about it. Instead he tended toward the larger issues of secrecy in government and how exactly one goes about getting information from people who do not want you to know the things you want to know.

“One percent.” That is Bill Clinton’s estimation of how much outsiders, even informed ones, know about what really goes on. To prove the point Woodward cited how everyone, including he, thought Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon as part of some corrupt deal, but turned out to have done it as an act of self-sacrifice in order to get the nation’s great scandal off the front page of the newspaper. “What was this way,” he said with a hand tilted to one side, “turns out to be completely the opposite.”

Woodward seemed frustrated with the way things are in Washington these days. Persistence, physically going to locations and talking to people, knocking on doors and being relentless are things the veteran reporter and current associate editor at the Post sees in short supply. Maybe you are required to say that kind of thing once your hair starts to turn gray, but this is a man who has been near the center of it all for decades; surely he must be on the pulse.

But if age was a factor in the presentation, it was so only in this: Bob Woodward really, truly, believes in the promise of journalism, and wants others, especially young people, to carry its torch. “It’s the greatest job in the world. … Journalists get to make momentary entries into people’s lives when they are interesting, and then we get the hell out.”

If journalism is out to lunch at the moment, perhaps due to what Woodward cites as the undue focus on speed over quality or Google eating up all the ad dollars that used to go to newsrooms, then at some point, Woodward said, we’ll miss something big.

Well Bob, I think maybe we already have.

Hank Phillippi Ryan Weaves a Good Mystery

otherwoman“The Other Woman” by Hank Phillippi Ryan, is on the shelves, and it delivers the goods, with a plot that twists and turns down dark alleys and past the Boston waterfront.

The story follows a few days in the life of Jane, TV journalist who has moved to the world of a daily newspaper. She fell from grace after a story she aired blew up on her, leaving her TV station with a $1 million judgment as she wore egg on her face for refusing to name her source. Now, her new job has her covering the soft side of election news.

The mystery weaves itself into the novel’s well-turned phrases and clear descriptions.

The cast of characters is complicated. But I can’t talk about it all that much as a great deal of the plot demands the secrets unravel according to the author’s time table.

The characters remind me of some Shakespearean dramas.

I can tell you there are many “other” women in this mystery novel. And there are a few murder victims.

The jacket promises that this is the first in a series. I can’t wait to see what Jane will fall into in the next book.

Hank Phillippi Ryan is an investigative reporter for Boston’s Channel. Unlike her heroine, her career is filled with accolades and she lives with her husband in Newton. She has been collecting literary prizes to go along with Emmys and Edward R. Murrow awards.

“The Other Woman”, Tom Doherty Associates, NY, 413 pages, hardcover, $24.99


Norwell’s Company Theatre Gets Comfy

Company Theatre Norwell

Patrons enjoy the newly renovated Company Theatre. Photo by Tom Pilla.

Norwell’s award-winning Company Theatre is stepping up its game, and “comfort” is the name.

On Jan. 10, the regional theatre reopened its doors after making a two-week, $158,000 renovation, targeted mostly at making audiences as comfortable as possible. 360 ergonomically designed seats were installed, along with wall moldings, carpeting, a new paint job, plus a state-of-the-art soundboard and L.E.D. lighting.

At the champagne gala unveiling, staff as well as patrons were excited for the new experience at the 32-year-old theatre company. “It’s like it’s brand new,” said Patricia Rice, who has been patronizing the theatre since its opening days in a church basement and $50 budget. Barbara Jones, another longtime supporter, was happy that her 6’2” husband would be able to fit comfortably in the new seats.

The theatre is visibly brighter than it was, and the new seats take up less room, giving patrons more space. The color scheme also matches up with that of the lobby, unifying the facility.

According to theatre principals Zoe Bradford, Michael Joseph and Jordie Saucerman, the décor was in need of a facelift. “It was an 80s design,” said Bradford, “Gray and mauve.” And the old seats, though plenty padded, were starting to break down mechanically. The result of the improvements is an auditorium that retains its intimacy but is definitively modern, something that will fit well with the wide range of shows the company puts on, which includes not just plays but performers and discussions. It even has that “new theatre” smell.

Company Theatre Directors Michael Joseph, Jordie Saucerman and Zoe Bradford thank patrons at the unveiling of the new theatre.

Company Theatre Directors Michael Joseph, Jordie Saucerman and Zoe Bradford thank patrons
at the unveiling of the new theatre.

 

“The hardest thing was finding seats as comfy as the old ones,” said Joseph – not the money, not the condensed time frame, but finding comfy seats. That tells you something about this organization.

“It’s so well-run that it was tough to get funding,” said chairman of the theatre’s board, Jim Merlin. It took two years to secure matching funds for the project through Massachusetts’ Cultural Council, but once the grant went through, it took less than four months to raise the amount needed from the community.

“We’re so grateful for being in this building and for the great support of the community,” said co-Director Bradford, “Everyone works extremely hard.”

Annual attendance has grown to some 45,000 attendees, and yearly operations have reached just over $1 million. With the enhanced technical capabilities and aesthetics of the renovation in place, the directors are looking to the future, which they believe is bright. Though with any journey forward, remembering one’s roots is helpful, which might explain why there is still a row of worn, overstuffed seats hanging around somewhere backstage. (They are pretty comfy.)

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The old

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…and the new


The Company Theatre’s next full production is “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” playing Feb. 13-17. There are lots of other shows in the meantime, which you can check out at their website www.companytheatre.com. They are located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell.

Folk-Southern Rock, South Shore Roots

UPDATE: Wild Northern released their new album “The Whiskey Season” at the Middle East Downstairs in January, and it’s great.

Have a listen to a few of the tunes right here.

 

 

You can listen on Spotify or buy it on iTunes. They’re on Facebook too.
END UPDATE, Jan. 14, 2013, by Tom Pilla

 

 

Brian Gallagher, Andrew Guerini and Jim Abdon may not have known what their future would hold if you talked with them when they graduated from Milton High School in 2006.

But playing in a rock band at gigs in New York City and Boston may not have been on their list.

The three have joined forces with New Jersey native Roland Eckstein to form the band The Wild Northern, and they are getting some attention in the music industry.

 

 

“We were never in the band or anything like that back at the high school,” Gallagher said, remembering the roots of the group’s talents. “My mom bought me a guitar when I was in sixth or seventh grade. We kind of formed our own group outside of school.”

The three would perform at events such as the old WBCN radio station’s Battle of the Bands, but once it came time for college, they each went their own way.

Gallagher went to Fairfield University where he met Eckstein, and the two worked on an acoustic guitar project together that got their creative juices flowing.

They started writing some music, and performed at a few venues near Fairfield in New York and Connecticut.

“After that, we wanted to form a full band,” Gallagher said.

That’s when he remembered his old buddies back in Milton.

“We recruited them to join us in February of 2011,” Gallagher said.

The Wild Northern officially launched last May, and has a self-described folk rock sound with southern influences. Listeners may find some of the band’s music is reminiscent of Matchbox Twenty.

 

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The Wild Northern featuresvocals by Gallagher and Eckstein, with Abdon on bass and Guerini on drums.

The group has performed in various clubs in New York City and around the Boston area. They plan to make appearances at The Beachcomber in Quincy.

The Wild Northern has recorded about six songs, and a video they recorded and posted online – a live version of their song “The Demarcation” – gives those who see it a feel for the professional commitment and impressive talent of the band. They truly seem to love what they are doing.

Cuts of the band’s work and more information are available on Facebook and at Reverbnation.com.

And while music is clearly their passion, right now they all have day jobs “to help pay the bills,” according to Gallagher. He works in accounting at Pioneer Investments in Boston; Abdon works at MediTech in Westwood; and Guerini is finishing school while working at his family’s concrete business.

“We would all love it if this takes off,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make it happen.”

Philosophy in Music at the Quincy Symphony Orchestra

 

QSO pic

The Quincy Symphony Orchestra

A cosmopolitan night at Quincy Symphony Orchestra’s Winter Concert on Feb. 16 was welcoming, well-balanced and full of intrigue and contrast.

Though the musicians hail from surrounding towns, the music in this concert was anything but local — though the atmosphere, due to the friendliness and accessibility of the conductor, composers (two of whom were in the auditorium – sadly, Beethoven couldn’t make it) and musicians made for an intimate, living-room feel.

An intellectual twisting of expectation ran throughout the evening’s program. After a short, rousing brass-only fanfare from the French composer Paul Dukas, and the playing of the national anthem just like at the ballgame, we heard a fascinating modern composition by Harvard’s Martin Schreiner that brought together traditional Japanese, Western and Franco-Latin aesthetics. “Tango at the Edge of Time” featured double soloists Ralph Samuelson and Yuki Yasuda on the bamboo flute, the shakuhachi, and the six-foot-long zither, the koto, something like a horizontal harp-guitar, respectively. Backed by the western-style orchestra and playing to the marching rhythm of the tango, the Japanese instruments, with sounds recognizable to the layperson from anymovie with scenes in the orient, set a nuanced, foreboding tone that contrasted well with the more confident, humanistic feel of the backing instruments and Argentine dance. Any philosophers in the audience surely went home thinking of a comparative thesis.

Following was a work more closely in line with the Japanese tradition, titled “Crossing Mountain,” by composer and founder of Boston Koto Academy, Dr. Takashi Koto. Featuring the same two soloists as the tango, this piece was a true musical painting, transporting listeners to a flight through snowcapped mountains, sandwiched on either side by pounding percussion arrangements, designed to be reminiscent of the massive Japanese taiko drums. Then came an encore of a traditional sakura, or cherry blossom, song.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastorale,” filled the second half of the concert, an interesting choice, as this five-movement piece contains many naturalistic elements, even direct facsimiles of bird calls and brooks bubbling, which played upon the earlier contrasting of the eastern, nature-focused aesthetic and the more anthropocentric western. “Pastorale,” with the joy of a representative Beethoven composition, takes us through a walk in the countryside, a prance with happy villagers, a raging torrent and its peaceful aftermath – another musical journey painting, presented with vigor by the capable QSO.

In addition to being thought-provoking, the concert was also fun, in no small part due to the energetic and emotionally generous conductor Yoichi Udagawa, whose ease in talking to and bringing along the audience invites classical music novices to enjoy alongside lifelong patrons, and whose near leaps off the stage betray a childlike exuberance for the music.

The Quincy Symphony Orchestra, in its 59th season, will offer its Spring Concert on April 13 at 8 p.m. at its home, the Lloyd Hill Performing Arts Center, at Quincy High School. It will feature Vaughn Willams’ 5th Symphony as well as 12-year-old piano soloist Megan Tan, winner of the Eleanor Nelson Concerto Competition, playing Shostakovich Piano Concerto #2. Visit quincysymphony.org for more information.

 

A version of this story appeared in the Milton Times on Feb. 21, 2013