SERVICE CALL: Electrician Joe Blanchard of Newton says his customers are invariably shocked to discover that he composes easy-listening songs, while those who know him for his self-taught piano playing are equally surprised by his blue-collar day job.
His favorite endeavor, however, is volunteer work.
Blanchard, who has been self-employed for 40 years, arranges his schedule to play in the lobby at Newton-Wellesley Hospital on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and in the second-floor atrium of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston on Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m.
He also occasionally volunteers at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Whitney Place Adult Day Health Center in Natick, and Carmel Terrace Assisted Living in Framingham, while also playing paid gigs for local hotels, restaurants, weddings, schools, and clubs.
The oldest of 13 children, Blanchard fell in love with classical music while listening to his father play the piano at home.
While Richard Blanchard amassed a repertoire of 700 songs he could play by ear, his son plays his own classically influenced compositions — with the single exception of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” which he reserves for kids.
If a hospital patient or senior citizen compliments his music, Blanchard said, he takes great pleasure in handing them one of his three CDs. He estimates that he has given away a total of 1,500 copies of “Lifecycle,” “Sandpipers on the Beach,” and “Morning Light,” which normally sell for $15 each. It’s also not uncommon for Blanchard to pay out of pocket to tune many of the pianos on which he plays.
Regardless of the setting, Blanchard said, he most enjoys bringing joy to those who are struggling.
“People really appreciate it when someone comes in and volunteers, and they let you know it,” he said. “Seeing them so happy is very humbling.”
For more information, visit www.joeblanchard.com.
FROM READER TO WRITER: A voracious speed reader who said he generally completes two to three books a day, Dover 19-year-old Spencer Dimmick grew tired of searching for a young adult fantasy novel starring a hero “who makes LGBT teens like me feel they can be anything, just like straight teens do.”
So he wrote and self-published one.
Available for the Kindle on Amazon.com since Aug. 10, the 307-page “Aspect of Winter” tells the story of three high school seniors in the fictional town of Owl’s Head (based on his hometown) who must fight for admission to a college for teenagers with magical abilities.
Feayr, the main character, is gay, and his best friend, Samantha, and their classmate Tyler are bisexual. Yet magic, rather than sexuality, is the focus of the story.
Dimmick said he wrote the book, which is geared for grades 7-12, under the pseudonym of Tom Early in order to distance himself from his speed-reading reputation in high school. Similarly, he wants his characters to be known for the full spectrum of their identities and abilities.
His own special skill has its advantages, however. He believes that he is a better writer for having already read thousands of books — including all seven Harry Potter novels, which he says he completed in one 14-hour sitting “when I was really bored.”
Dimmick, who is already working on a sequel, plans to take creative writing courses when he enters Tufts University this fall. “I want to get better,” he said, “and put more books out there.”
UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE: A four-member team from Berklee College of Music recently participated in a cultural exchange program in Kenya, where they taught and performed Western music and learned about traditional Kenyan music, instruments, dance, and culture.
The program was led by Berklee staff member Sam Lutomia, a native of Kenya who now lives in Framingham. He is the founder of Boston-based Global Youth Groove, whose mission is to transform the lives of youth through music, and he is also a cofounder of Acacia in Kenya, which supports girls’ education in the East African country.
Berklee assistant professor Rene Pfister, who lives in Stow, was the team leader. The student participants were Holliston resident Natasha Ostapovicz, a dual major in music business/management and performance, and Cara Smith, a dual major in music therapy and performance from Boston.
The group traveled to the capital, Nairobi, and western Kenya, visiting schools and community music programs, practicing music therapy at orphanages, conducting voice workshops, performing, and attending festivals. This was the third annual volunteer trip to Kenya sponsored by Global Youth Groove, which has initiated several music programs with donated equipment.
“It’s been proven that immersion is the best way to learn a language, and I believe it’s the same with art and community,” Pfister said. “We only grow as teachers and performers by stepping out of our comfort zone and into the world around us.”
THUMBS UP FOR STEM: Last September, the Beaver Country Day School, with students in grades 6-12 in Chestnut Hill, became the first school in the nation to integrate computer programming into its core curriculum as a way to prepare students for the 21st-century workplace.
After presenting its plans last year at SXSWedu, an educational conference in Texas, Beaver Country Day is in the running to share the results of its pilot program at next year’s session. The proposed speakers include the school’s math department head, Robert MacDonald ; head of school Peter Hutton of Chestnut Hill; and Yolanda Wilcox Gozalez, a social studies teacher and technology integration specialist at Beaver Country Day.
The public may help select who gets to participate in SXSWedu 2015, but voting ends Friday; cast a ballot for Beaver Country Day online at panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/ 31289 .
FARM DAY: Chicken-keeping expert Terry Golson of Carlisle will appear with her hens at Saturday’s annual Farm Day at Verrill Farm in Concord.
The author of “Tillie Lays an Egg” and “The Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook” will be visiting with fans from 1 to 2 p.m. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 11 Wheeler Road, with a barbecue, apple pie contest, the Holliston-based Lil Folk Farm petting zoo, live music, hay and pony rides, and a corn-husking contest.
For more information, call 978-369-4494 or visit www.verrillfarm.com.People items may be submitted to Cindy Cantrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.