When I was very young I heard John Lennon say that music can change the world. Those words stuck hard and guide me to this very day. They are my mantra, my religion, and the very core of my being. I started writing this MAD with Music column for much the same reason I started FODfest. It is an opportunity to do my small part to “change the world” with music. MAD is, in fact, an acronym for Making a Difference. To borrow a phrase from one of my musical heroes, Michael Franti, I know I’m not alone.
Bono, Peter Gabriel, the Indigo Girls, Bonnie Raitt, and Yo Yo Ma are just a few among the long list of well known artists who “make a difference” with their music through their activism and contributions to humanitarian causes. Their success has positioned them to have real impact in their efforts and gives them the exposure to further that impact. I am impressed by and grateful for their contributions, but I am even more so by the work of the countless musicians who give of themselves in the same way without the advantages of fame and fortune and the resources that they provide. On May 24, our community lost one of those unsung heroes.
Anson Olds was one of the first musicians I met when I moved to the area nearly 13 years ago. Greeted by his warm smile and gentle demeanor, I was immediately impressed by his incredible musicianship. Anson was a master fiddler, mean flat picker, and purveyor of a wide array of musical styles including folk, bluegrass, and old-time. He was also a master teacher.
For the past 12 years, Anson was the elementary school music teacher for the Southern Berkshire Regional School district. His impact on the students there was tangible and he was easily one of the most beloved teachers in the district. My own kids and niece adored him and learned a great deal from him. Anson believed fervently in the power of music to connect people. He was the ambassador of the idea that music is a universal language, extending the precept beyond the music itself. Anson taught his pre-K through 5th graders how to sing in Spanish and how to sign, teaching them a valuable life lesson in the process.
To learn to sing in another’s language, be it verbal or sign, is to reach across dividing lines between people. It provides a deeper understanding and respect for people from different cultures or people whose challenges, physical or otherwise, may be different than our own. It broadens our minds and provides a sense of place in the world at large. Although I never had the opportunity to ask him directly, I suspect Anson was fully aware of the intrinsic values he imparted to his students by teaching them to sing in other languages. These values become the through lines of a young person’s life as they move forward.
Tragically, Anson lost his life in a fatal car accident, leaving this world way too soon at the age of 56. He was gifted in many ways, but his greatest gift of all was the one he gave his students as teacher and role model, which in turn was a gift to our community as a whole. He will be sorely missed, but his gift will live on in the thousands of students he taught and scores of souls he touched over the course of his lifetime. In this way, Anson’s life is exemplary of somebody who has made and will continue to make a difference with music. I am honored to have known him and am grateful for all that he has taught my kids.
The Anson S. Olds Children’s Educational Fund has been established in Anson’s memory. Donations to the fund can be made through Finnerty & Stevens Funeral Home, 426 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or online at www.finnertyandstevens.com.
Todd Mack is a writer, musician, and producer, and owner of the Off the Beat-n-Track recording studio in Sheffield, MA. He is also the founder and executive director of Music in Common, a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music. Email him at email@example.com.