Maker of music and song
By Connie Conway
The best music schools have their own soundtracks. Take for instance The Renaissance Center for Music in Woodbury, Conn., where visitors often find themselves charmed by a pastiche of disparate musical sounds.
Though each lesson room is acoustically a world unto itself, there is the occasional brass riff or piano glissando as a door is briefly opened; the raising of a voice in classic solo performance; or a chorus of voices singing a Broadway medley “Glee”-style.
Janet (Jan) Hecht Gregory ’68, owner and director of the fondly nicknamed RenCenter, has brought decades of experience to this community resource. She credits her Hecht family’s love of song as well as her WestConn bachelor’s degree in music as her jumping-off point to a four-decade career of teaching, performing and directing both secular and church music.
Accomplished in the areas of piano, voice, guitar and other instruments, Gregory’s personal philosophy tracks well with her professional one: “If we’re not having fun teaching and playing music, we shouldn’t be here,” she maintains with a bit of an impish grin.
The Renaissance Center has for 14 years enjoyed a fine reputation for developing the talents of individuals of every age. Originally located in Southbury, Conn., it was co-owned by Gregory and pianist John Dulina for several years and has consistently served students from Litchfield, Fairfield and New Haven counties.
“I was fortunate to be able to buy John’s half of the business,” Gregory says. Then, when the opportunity came to move the Center into the newly expanded building that also houses Woodbury’s Creative Arts Studio (CAST), she went for it.
“The kids who come to CAST after school are full of imagination and energy,” she says. “A number of them take lessons with us, which works out perfectly for their parents, as well. Then, in the evenings, we run classes and workshops like our a capella Femina Melodia group and African djembe drumming circle.”
“In all, this was a big move to pick up an established business and move it to another town, ” says Group Program Coordinator Anne Westerman, who has worked with Gregory for several years. “But Jan was confident that the need for music education exists everywhere.”
Westerman’s son, Brian, a talented pianist who will graduate from Pomperaug High School this spring, studied for 10 years with Gregory. “She’s so dedicated,” he says. “She always encourages the best in her students and treats each one with complete respect.”
Of the many instructors at Gregory’s Renaissance Center, no less than six are WestConn graduates. These are Dr. Al Martin ’66, Anne McNulty Ferraro ’85, Michael Ances ’06, Seth Uricheck ’10, Mark Focarile ’05 and, of course, Director Gregory herself.
In addition, WestConn student Caroline Strange, who transferred from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to be a vocal performance major at WestConn, now leads the Broadway Performance and Cabaret Performance singers at the Renaissance Center.
“I grew up performing in and even directing children's musical groups. But teaching at the Renaissance Center has been an educational experience for both me and my students,” says Strange.
“My dream is to one day open my own fine arts academy,” adds the young singer/instructor. Listen to her speak those words and you can’t help but hear the opening to the story that has been Jan Gregory’s own.