Clips, Hyperlocal

Yorktown Couple To Sponsor Countrywide School Song Contest

Just how many of us remember our school songs long after we graduate? Sadly enough, not that many.

Those memories may have faded either because those compositions weren’t emotionally rousing enough to tug at our heartstrings or weren’t musically appealing enough or didn’t have memorable lyrics.

But more importantly, the schools we attended didn’t have an anthem to begin with. That’s in sharp contrast to the volume and popularity of college football fight songs and stadium anthems.

Today, a minuscule number of elementary schools have school songs.

Yorktown-based singer and songwriter Scott Bierko estimated it to be a mere 10 percent. And even the ones that do have them are so old and outdated that they don’t resonate with the majority of the kids, he added.

So, Bierko and his wife, Beth—both of whom have a 15 year wealth of experience in the field of crafting school songs—came up with the idea of sponsoring a “Create a School Song Contest.”

The couple is asking elementary school children all across Westchester County to send in an online 250-word essay, expressing why their school deserves a new or a first-time school song.

The school with the most impassioned plea will get to participate in an intensive, three-day writer’s workshop to receive a foundation course in writing and recording a school song. Entries can be sent to tara@theonswitch.com before the deadline: November 15, 2008.

The logic behind this creative venture is simple.

Just as the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” makes every American feel connected to the nation and to one another, so would the school song make every kid feel a deeper bond to his or her school mates and to the institution.

“Solidarity and spirit are the cornerstones of a successful school song. Everyone knows the importance of music in the schools, but working together to create a song takes the musical experience to another level,” said Bierko.

“It gives children the opportunity to be artists. When you hear their voices, singing their song, [the] real ‘magic moment’ [comes alive],” added Beth in a prepared statement.

“The school’s anthem will incorporate the school’s values, somewhat like its mission statement, so that kids can feel that they’re a part of a tradition. It’s something that they’ll sing on Graduation Day, Field Day, etc,” said Bierko.

The Bierkos had this brainwave about 10 years ago when a PTA mother told them that she had no fond memories of her childhood school song. Since then, they’ve helped create over 40 of them in various schools in the Tri-State region.

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Clips, Hyperlocal

All The News That Fits In The Print

In January, 1750, New-York Gazette publisher James Parker wrote:

This Taste, we Englishmen, have for News, is a very odd one; yet it must be fed; and tho’ it seems to be a jest to Foreigners, yet it is an Amusement we can’t be with out.”

256 years later, that “taste for news” remains as strong as ever. It’s even intensified, if numbers are an indicator. In 2003, the number of U.S. newspapers stood at a whopping 1,456 dailies and 6,704 weeklies.

For an authoritative reporting on say, president Bush’s crackdown on illegal immigration, we may rely on a national paper like The New York Times. For celebrity gossip, we may leaf through a glossy magazine.

Where does one turn to for information about local candidates running for town hall elections?

In the good old days of the town criers, all that townspeople did was wait for the arrival of a portly man in a red and gold robe and a tricorne hat—a messenger of the monarch who’d bring news of everything from tax hikes to municipal regulations.

But this isn’t’ Medieval England. Nor is it Colonial America of the pre-newspaper era. This is the Berkshires, Massachusetts, of 2006, where there’s neither a paucity of newsprint nor is there a dearth of people with a voracious appetite for news.

And what better proof of that than the existence of five independent community newsletters in an area that’s no larger than 161 square-miles.

The four towns of Egremont, New Marlborough, Monterey, and Sheffield have eponymous newspapers called the Egremont News, the New Marlborough 5 Village News, the Monterey News, and the Sheffield Times. West Stockbridge’s is called the Local Yokel.

More than anything else, it was a keen desire on the part of the members of the community to stay connected with one another and to keep abreast of the goings-on around town that led to the birth of these grassroots-level print media.

As the name would suggest, the New Marlborough 5 Village News was started in the year 2000 as an attempt to link the five geographically distant villages of Clayton, Hartsville, New Marlborough Village, Mill River, and Southfield.

“The town is scattered all across the countryside. It requires 89 miles of roadways to link [these villages]. Each village is so far away from the next, that by the time, news traveled from one end to the other, [the event] was already over,” said Jon Swan, editor of the NM5VM.

The others too, were founded for pretty much the same reasons: to be a medium of mass communication and to act as a forum for public debate and interaction.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. When the local school closed down a year or so ago, the folks of West Stockbridge were deprived of a place where they could assemble for chitchatting and comparing notes on the community.

So, an alternate platform had to be found. That was the Local Yokel, said Tina Cooper Skorput, its co-editor.

While the Egremont News, the Local Yokel, the Sheffield Times and the NM5VN are products of recent years, the Monterey News dates back to 1970, making it the oldest in this quintet of newsletters.

A brainchild of a pastor, the Monterey News started out as an ecclesiastical document. Today, it’s still published under the auspices of the Monterey United Church of Christ.

Elements common to most of them are their organizational structure, distribution, frequency of publication, content, and model of revenue generation or rather, the lack of one.

Save for the NM5VN, which has a fairly robust editorial team of 15, most others are run by a lean regular staff of no more than six. The Egremont News, for instance, is brought out by a pair of staffers at the selectmen’s office.

All these publications are the outcome of the collective efforts of the community. Not only do the area residents contribute toward the editorial input by sending in a poem or a recipe or a news snippet, they also keep them financially afloat through generous donations. Only 20 to 30 percent of the running cost is borne by advertising.

The only exception to the rule is the Egremont News, which is a taxpayer-funded bimonthly newsletter with no advertising. Its printing expenses are taken care of by the town budget (a sum of $2,700 has been allocated for the fiscal year 2007) Also, it has no reader contribution. Its editorial content is sourced entirely by the various town departments.

Out the five, only two have an online existence: the Egremont News and the Local Yokel. The rest are available only in hard copies.

One may either pick them up, free of cost, at the local town halls, the libraries, and the general stores, or have them delivered. About 1,200 copies of the NM5VN and 700 copies of the Monterey News are mailed out each month. 982 of the Egremont News go out every two months.

What news do they carry? Barring the NM5VN, which has an investigative slant, the others tend to feature dry reports on the town’s meetings, round-ups of public hearings, and a calendar of local events.

Bottom line: Whatever be their news, their stories are here to stay.

Business, Clips, Hyperlocal

Downtown To Have A Facelift

They’re all headed downtown—an Ole Mole Mexican eatery, a Warren & Williams body and skincare spa, a Gofer ice-cream parlor, and a seafood place.

These businesses are to be the new tenants at a soon-to-be-built building at 1020 Boston Post Road, to be developed by Stamford developers Baywater Properties and Frank Mercede & Sons.

The three-story building, which will have a floor area of 28,000 square-feet, will house an assortment of retail, restaurants, offices, and apartments.

The first floor, with a space of 10,100 square-feet, is reserved for retail and restaurants. Of that, about 8,500 square-feet has already been leased. “1,600 square-feet is left for renting,” said Frank Mercede, president of Frank Mercede & Sons.

Baywater Properties, which is presently headquartered at 78 Harvard Avenue, in Stamford, will relocate to Darien and occupy a portion of the second floor.

The remainder of the 10,000-square-feet area will rented out to offices. “There’s about 8,000 square-feet [of space] that’s still available,” said Mercede.

He added that there’re some “serious office candidates,” who’re currently vying for a slot. A row of six luxury apartments—two of which will be leased at below-market rents—will take up the third floor.

“One of them has been committed to a town employee, but we haven’t yet begun to market the rest. We plan to do that in the next nine months or so,” he said.

“We’ve obsessed over the tenant mix for 1020 Boston Post Road for several years and have worked as hard as we could to address the needs and wants of the community, from the attraction of two new high quality restaurants to the inclusion of affordable housing,”  said David Genovese, chief executive officer of Baywater Properties in a statement.

Since my father and I both live in town, we want the property to be not only beautifully designed and built, but also to be a significant contributor to the quality of life in Darien,” he added.

Commenting on how this would impact the town’s effort at revitalizing its downtown, Mercede said, “I think this will be a catalyst since this is a key project, in terms of what it offers: apartments at a great location, nice office space, the much-needed restaurants. Also, it links the municipal lots with the public thoroughfares.”

The structure is being designed by Mark Finlay Architects, an award-winning architecture firm, based in Southport, Connecticut, Pearl Management Group, owners of several well-known fine dining establishments such as Elm Street Oyster House in Greenwich, will open a 4,000-square-feet restaurant, which will offer an al-fresco dining experience.

Williams & Warren will move from its present address at 1066 Boston Post Road to a bigger, 2,000-square-feet outlet on 1020 Boston Post Road. Gofer Ice Cream, which opened in town in 2004, will return to the Darien market with a store nearly twice its original size.