What is this unique tradition at WCMS that is so beloved by the community?

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact year in which our performathon tradition began, because it was originally called the “Student Showcase.” In May of 2005, we decided to turn the “Student Showcase” into an event that was commonly offered at other community music schools, a “Performathon.” It was a modest event in those early years, being held indoors at WCMS, and we used just two concert venues—Nichols Performance Hall and the Living Room. Students collected pledges from family and friends for their performances, and the money raised went to the WCMS Financial Aid Program. While these were lovely concerts for a few years, we began to feel that the event didn’t differentiate itself from the many other terrific student recitals that WCMS already offered throughout the year.

In May 2008, we decided to mix it up and take the Performathon on the road to Mahoney’s Garden Center in Winchester. M. Steinert & Sons generously offered to deliver a grand piano to the Garden Center. Mahoney’s was a gracious host and it was a beautiful setting with lots of spring flowering plants. Thus “Music in Bloom” was our theme that year. Many of us still remember how humid it was in the greenhouse—any tuning of string instruments and the grand piano became somewhat futile as the day went on. But it was a very fun day with about 125 performers, and the tradition of free event t-shirts for all performers and volunteers began. Thank you to John Moriarty and Associates for being the sole longtime and continuous sponsor of all our MAYnia t-shirts.

The next year, WCMS decided that bringing the event back to our own Home for Music would be a more suitable venue for music performances. In 2009, we called it a May Day Festival featuring “Music MAYnia.” It was a bit like a Renaissance fair atmosphere with a maypole and arts and crafts activities, and we added an outdoor tent for performances so that there were three stages. Former WCMS Trustee Karen Erikson and her family built our maypole. Families and friends purchased “shout-outs” for their special performers, and these were listed in the event’s program book. Several local businesses also took out ads for the program book. In its day, the program book was quite a publication to put together.

We also realized that when we brought Music MAYnia back to the music school, we needed to address parking concerns. The idea of a Musical Trolley (now a shuttle bus) was brought to life by former WCMS Trustee Cathy Arnold. MAYnia performers and guests ride on the shuttle to and from MAYnia from satellite parking locations to help ease congestion on streets around the music school. During their short ride, they are entertained by a musician on the shuttle. Over the years there have been many shuttle performers, from Mr. Tad to Musical Miss Lynn to adult WCMS learners Kirk Baker and Garrett Nagle.

The number of MAYnia performers continued to grow. It hit the 200 mark in 2011; 250 in 2012; and over 300 in 2013. Throughout the years, we’ve changed a few things. We now have professional food trucks on site instead of grilling our own hotdogs (which were generously donated for years by D’Agostino’s Deli, with hot dog buns from Piantedosi Bakery). The Lollipop Raffle has been replaced by the Ducky Draw game in more recent years. The Wheel of Fortune game, started by the Dowden Family, continues to always be a big hit. In some years we’ve offered strolling magicians, face painting, balloon animals (thank you Shukong Ou), and spin art. Eventually, the number of performers—and especially the number of bands and ensembles— increased so significantly that we added a fourth stage in an additional tent in the front driveway of the school to give more students the opportunity to perform. It typically takes 60-70 volunteers to run MAYnia. What we offer at each MAYnia depends on the number of volunteers and the school’s resources.

The only year that WCMS ever missed hosting Music MAYnia was in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eager to give our WCMS students something fun in 2021, with great care and sensitivity to safety, we hosted Music PandeMAYnia (with thanks to teaching artist Noralee Walker for the creative twist on the name!). It was held at two outdoor sites and included just musical performances and no other extra activities. One performance site was in the WCMS backyard on a patio that had been built during COVID-19 for teaching and holding outdoor recitals. The other performance site was graciously hosted by Winchester Savings Bank on their front door sidewalk on Main Street. This was the first year we began the food truck tradition. Frozen Hoagies came to us so that each performer could have an ice cream treat after their recital.

MAYnia returned strong in 2022 with a special theme of “Totally ‘80s.” This was done as part of the school’s year-long 40th anniversary celebration since WCMS was founded in the 1981-1982 school year. Several attendees dressed up as their favorite ‘80s rock stars and we added a selfie-station activity tent with ‘80s costumes and props. Lots of great tunes that aligned with the theme were performed on all four stages. We enjoyed the theme idea so much that we settled on the “Groovy ‘60s” as a theme in 2023. This was the year of the fabulous tie-dye MAYnia t-shirt, thanks to an idea suggested years earlier by Shobana Albrecht. We also named each stage after an iconic ‘60s era musical venue such as Woodstock, The Fillmore, and The Apollo.

Presently, we typically have around 330 performers and over 1000 attendees throughout the four hours of Music MAYnia activities. It is always held on the first Sunday afternoon of May. We appreciate the graciousness of the music school’s neighbors during the event. With the assistance of the Town of Winchester and the Winchester Police, we make every effort to keep parking issues and busy sidewalks as safe as possible. While WCMS is a non-profit arts organization, the event is not a fundraiser. We feel it is a friend-raiser and a way to give back to the community. In 2024, we appreciate the generosity of the Rotary Club of Winchester who is our lead event sponsor.

Over the years, we have heard many stories about how a family’s first time coming to WCMS was to attend Music MAYnia. They often come back through our doors, maybe right away or perhaps a few years later, to enroll in classes or music lessons. WCMS thanks everyone—the faculty, students, parents, adult learners, administrative staff, Trustees, volunteers, and the many donors who keep the Music MAYnia tradition alive, year after year.

Written by WCMS Executive Director Laurie Russell, May 2024