When Laura Walton moved to Martha’s Vineyard last fall to take on the role of music teacher at the Edgartown School, what she discovered was a mecca for musicians and music lovers. “I think a lot of people on the outside don’t realize the extent of the music scene here,” she says.
As well as teaching music at the school and taking over as artistic director of the Martha’s Vineyard Children’s Chorus, Ms. Walton has been able to work on her own songwriting and performing. She has been a regular attendee at the Island Music open mic nights, and had her Island debut as a performer at the most recent Chilmark potluck jam.
“I went for the first time to the one before and just watched,” she says. “I was just amazed at the number of musicians and the number of people actually writing and recording on the Island. I decided, ‘You need to get up and play.’”
Ms. Walton performed two songs, and the response was enthusiastic. “I’m finding that musicians here are very supportive of each other,” she says. “Whatever kind of music you’re doing, there’s a lot of support, a lot of appreciation. People are willing to help you.”
A New York State native, Ms. Walton earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Syracuse University, and is pursuing a master’s in elementary general and special education from New York University. Previously, she served as intern for the Syracuse Children’s Chorus, and is thrilled to have been offered the opportunity to continue to work with kids — both through the school system, the M.V. Children’s Chorus (which accommodates all Island children), and more recently, through a songwriting workshop at Pathways.
Begun this past January by Annie Cook, the workshop is for teens looking to develop their songwriting skills. Each week a different member of the Island music community is on hand to help young songwriters hone their skills. Ms. Walton was brought in by Ms. Cook to help run the workshop. The two women also plan to work on some jazz numbers, and will be performing together in the future.
The Children’s Chorus, which Ms. Walton now leads, was founded two years ago by Lisa Varno. The nonprofit’s mission is “to unite students Island-wide through song and to develop musicianship, self-confidence, and musical expression through developmentally appropriate vocal instruction.”
“Anyone can join from all over the Island,” says Ms. Walton. “There are no auditions.” The choir is made up of members in grades K through 8. The group presents two concerts a year, and participates in performances by other Island choral groups. In March, the Children’s Chorus will participate in the All-Island Choral Festival.
In preparation for their spring concert, the chorus has been learning two traditional Brazilian songs, to be performed in Portuguese. One is an African slave song. “We’ve been talking about the African slave trade in Brazil, and discussing the story behind the song,” says Ms. Walton. “The kids really had some thoughts about why a song like that would exist, and why it’s important to sing these songs.”
Another song, called “Reflections of a Lad at Sea,” was chosen for its relevance to Island life. Ms. Walton has been inspired by the talent and dedication of the members of the chorus: “No matter how tired I am after school on Wednesdays, I am always energized by the kids.”
As busy as she has been, Ms. Walton has found the time to work on new material for herself. She notes that she didn’t really have the time while she was in school or, later on, when she was teaching in Queens, N.Y., for a year, to focus on her own music. “I actually didn’t perform that much at all. That sort of fell by the wayside,” she said.
Since moving to the Island, Ms. Walton has written three songs to add to her body of work. “Within the next year, I hope to get enough songs together to record. I’ve met so many really supportive people who have encouraged me and offered to help, she said. “I’m finding the culture here to be very supportive. I feel there’s a lot of mutual respect for all types of people. I love how people take care of each other.”