This article first appeared in the March 17, 2017 edition of The Town Courier.
Monica Harwood enjoys the challenges of a complex professional life. The City of Gaithersburg’s Arts on the Green community arts program coordinator for the Arts Barn has two other jobs. Since 2009, she has been Poolesville Presbyterian Church’s music director and accompanist, and since 2012, she has given private music and voice lessons in her own Gaithersburg studio.
“I am currently balancing a lot of responsibilities, as a private teacher with about 20 students, working at the Arts Barn and directing the Poolesville Presbyterian Church Choir,” Harwood acknowledged. “However, I find that the different positions kind of overlap and contribute to each other.”
For example, she said, some of her private students competed in the city’s Young Artist Award competition at the Arts Barn, and her experience with the church’s chorus has given her “a frame of reference” for her work with the Gaithersburg Chorus. In addition, the network of teachers and performers she has built through all these endeavors is invaluable “as I start to plan community and family events for the upcoming season at the Arts Barn.”
Shellie Williams, the Arts Barn’s arts administrator, observed that Harwood’s background makes her “a terrific asset to the city’s cultural programming. She grew up in Derwood, attended Col. Zadok Magruder High School and holds a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance from Catholic University of America—and thus, “brings a wealth of local connections and history to her position as well as education and experience in the performing arts.”
Harwood’s responsibilities, said Williams, include curating performances in the Arts on the Green series, Just for Families and Get in the Act, and managing the Young Artists Awards and the Gaithersburg Chorus. “Her education and experience means she really understands these audiences and how to plan programs that meet their interests,” she observed.
Surprisingly, Harwood did not grow up in a musical home. “My family has always been more interested in math and the sciences rather than the performing arts, my father is a computer scientist, my sister a neuroscientist and my brother is an electrical engineer,” she said. Yet, she noted, they fully supported her by “always attending my performances and encouraging my participation in musical activities.”
Harwood believes her first exposure to classical music was a children’s cassette titled “Mozart’s Magic Fantasy: A Journey Through ‘The Magic Flute.’” It was the “only way” her older sister with whom she shared a bedroom “could get me to sleep. … I can probably still recite the entire tape, from front to back.” Piano lessons began at age 5. “I had been waiting to be ‘the right age’ and seeing my older siblings playing instruments, so I was really determined to keep up with them.”
She remained on the musical path in middle school where choral director Terry Eberhardt (who she still keeps in touch with) invited his students to his operas, and at Magruder where she took part in both Peter Schmidt’s chamber chorus and musical theater performances.
Now several months into her new job for the city—she joined the staff in July and took over as coordinator in December—Harwood has two main goals: “to program performances that are educational and entertaining for the Gaithersburg community, and to inspire a deeper appreciation of classical music in the community.” She plans “to continue performing and studying music” while “putting shows together and coordinating things from the administrative side.” Her preference is for “performing and programming contemporary opera (and) classical music that engage modern audiences with subjects that are culturally relevant—or things that should be!”
So far, all is well. “Monica is graciousness itself,” Williams said. “During our very popular Boo at the Barn last Halloween, Monica was grace under fire! With over 900 children and parents visiting the Barn, you’d think the program manager might have a reason or two to get upset, but she just smiled serenely and carried on, ensuring everyone felt welcome and had a great time.”
Harwood concurred. “It has been a blast to work here. It was fun to meet other music teachers and to hear the amazingly talented students during our Young Artists Awards competition,” she said. “I am also learning some new things that I didn’t have a lot of experience with before, like marketing and contracting performers.”
And that’s not all. To add still another skillset, Harwood is studying web development at the University of Maryland University College, “which will give me more skills to draw from in terms of marketing and digital media at the Arts Barn.”
As Williams said, “We are so fortunate to have her with us!”