Music center pitched for Middlebury Community House

MIDDLEBURY — The historic Middlebury Community House could soon be home to a “Middlebury Community Music Center,” where aspiring musicians would be taught to become more proficient on the instrument(s) of their choice — including voice.

Community House trustees last week agreed to further explore and potentially sign a lease agreement for the music center proposal, pitched by Sadie Danforth-Brightman, an accomplished local musician and piano instructor. Trustees have for the past few months been seeking proposals to rent, or even purchase, the Community House at 6 Main St., a 197-year-old stately home that was given to the town in 1938 by Jessica Swift and her brother, Philip Battell Stewart.

The facility is one of the best examples of post-colonial, Federal-style architecture left in town and is currently rented out for meetings and private functions. But the event fee revenues are not covering the Community House’s operating expenses, which has compelled trustees to consider other ideas to keep the property out of the red.

Trustees this fall invited prospective tenants and/or buyers to submit their ideas. The board received two serious offers, one from Danforth-Brightman, the other from a party proposing to use it as shared office space.

Ken Perine, president of the National Bank of Middlebury and a Community House trustee, said Danforth-Brightman’s plan gained a lot of support.

“From the trustees’ standpoint, this use fit very well with the Community House mission,” Perine said, noting the benefactors’ desire that the building be used by area residents “in a meaningful way.”

Perine noted the music center plan will not drive the need for major upgrades to the Community House. Trustees had been planning to make some accessibility improvements to the building next year regardless of its new tenant or owner. Antique furnishings will remain inside the home, which will continue to be used for occasional, special events — such as the seasonal visits from Santa Claus.

Perine said he could not disclose the proposed rental arrangement with Danforth-Brightman, but said the sum would help achieve the trustees’ goal of covering Community House expenses without dipping into the endowment fund. He added Danforth-Brightman hopes to eventually have the music center occupy the entire building.

And Danforth-Brightman, 35, already knows quite a bit about the Community House, as she has taught private piano lessons there for a good while.

“It’s very exciting,” she said of trustees’ selection of her plan. “So far, the response has been very positive.”

Danforth-Brightman said she is still refining her plan and will have more to say at a later date. But her broad vision is of a thriving hub for music instruction, an enterprise with multiple instructors that will be run like a centralized school.

“The house itself is conducive to this sort of learning,” she said.

Danforth-Brightman is a lifelong Addison County resident and graduate of Mount Abraham Union High School. If all goes according to plan, she will open the Middlebury Community Music Center next fall.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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Addison County Independent

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