WAREHAM — Frank Noonan, 65, is a career military man, lifelong musician, and former music director at Wareham High School. At an age when most are thinking about retirement, he’s going in the opposite direction.
Noonan and his wife, Sue, run SouthCoast Center for the Arts, which opened in September with a small space for performances and shows. They do it as he continues to give lessons in the adjacent Onset Village Music store the Wareham couple own. He also performs at nursing homes and other venues in the area, and his wife attends Bridgewater State University full time while working to become an English teacher as she manages both their businesses.
“When you bring arts to a community, it raises everything, such as literacy levels and school testing scores — it’s been documented,” said Sue Noonan, 50. “The arts should be accessible to everyone. The performers should take something away from their performance and in turn the audience gets something from the people enjoying their art.”
The Noonans, with some volunteer help, run the center like a nonprofit, though it is not one yet, an application process they say they will undertake this year. They hold classes and clinics for a fee, and also charge participants to be in the bands and choir they have formed, to partially cover costs.
“This is for the community,” Frank Noonan said. “We’re making no money and are paying for mostly everything ourselves.”
He said the fees they charge band and choir members are about $5 a week, which “covers about 50 percent of our operational costs; my wife and I pay for the rest. That’s why we’re grateful for volunteers and are looking for more.”
The 45-seat performance area was carved out of a computer store that relocated, allowing them to knock out the wall between it and their music store.
“We thought this space would be an excellent venue for band programs and an art center,” Frank Noonan said, as well as poetry slams, book clubs, visual arts, and drama.
“They’re rock-solid people, and have made a real commitment to the community, by keeping their store in town and adding the arts center,” said Stephen M. Holmes, a Wareham selectman, who has taken piano lessons at the Noonans’ store. “Poetry readings, open-mike nights, music — it’s just a great place for people to go at night and do something.”
Corinne Cameron, a community theater director who lives on the Cape and is associated with another new arts entity in town, Buzzards Bay Productions, which stages plays and live music, said the Noonans’ initiative is part of a movement toward “revitalizing the arts in Wareham.”
“There is so much talent in the area; I think the new center is a great addition,” said Cameron. “It would be great if the two [new entities] could work in cooperation with each other.”
In the few months the center has been opened, three groups have been formed, each putting on free shows: a community band and a community choir, each for all ages, and a student band for children in grades 5 through 8.
“We’ve had a number of band shows, open mike events, comedians, anything you’d expect at a place like this,” Frank Noonan said. “For open mike nights, we’ve had a seventh-grade flute player perform and an 80-year-old trumpet player and singer, so we have a good range of talent.”
With teachers they hire, the Noonans also offer classes in writing, art, drama and movement, and a “Little Feet, Big Beat” class for children in grades K-2. They said they expect to have a music-therapy class for special-needs students.
Music engages the brain on many levels, said Sue Noonan. Engagement is needed in modern times because “technology isolates us,” she said. “We’re missing that person-to-person contact. Doing things like this enhances brain power and is good for the soul.”
Noonan, who is not a musician herself, said the appeal of the arts center is family-friendly programs at a decent price.
“People should be comfortable with what they see,” she said. “They can connect with forms of art that make them think, feel, and react. Our programs are for all ages and family oriented — people should be able to bring their 9-year-old to a show and know it’ll be appropriate.”
The Noonans’ work has not gone unnoticed: In December, Wareham selectmen gave the couple a “Spirit of Christmas Award” for the services they provide to local children.
Frank Noonan, a Malden native, served in the military for 26 years, all as a musician — 13 years with the Marines, then seven in the Army followed by six years in the Army National Guard. He played with the Marine drum and bugle corps, and performed all over the world, including at the White House, eventually retiring from the 215th Army band in Fall River.
He then taught for 15 years in various school systems, including Weymouth, before retiring from the Wareham system, where he met Sue, then a band parent and booster club president. They opened their music store first in Onset, and moved to their current location on Cranberry Highway a year and a half ago.
Their new venture is growing quickly, they said, as they ready for a new band and choir season and plan things like a comedy show in March and summer programs, which may include performances at the band shell in Onset and other local spots.
“We want to take these shows on the road,” he said, “to create more awareness of what we have.”
But with that growth comes more work than they anticipated.
“It’s a lot of work, but our backgrounds are in persistence and discipline,” Sue Noonan said. “We’re a great team.”For more information on the arts center, visit www.southcoastcenterforthearts.org.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.