Sharing passion for musical arts on stages and in classrooms

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By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor

Stephen Murray as Billy Flynn in “Chicago” at Vokes Theatre in Wayland in 2017
Stephen Murray as Billy Flynn in “Chicago” at Vokes Theatre in Wayland in 2017
Photo/Al Ragone

Northborough/Wayland – A music educator for over three decades, Stephen Murray of Northborough has taught and served as choral director at Wayland Middle School since 2003. Teaching led him to also work as a playwright, composer and lyricist for youth audiences.

Throughout the 1990s, he performed onstage and directed music at several venues including the now-closed Worcester Foothills Theatre and the still-thriving Worcester County Light Opera Company. With teaching experience spanning decades, his studies continued and he earned a doctorate in music education in 2017. Since then, he has returned to his roots: performing musicals at community theaters.

“It felt terrific being onstage again,” he said. “Of course, there was a lot of anxiety with the auditioning and not being part of community theaters for almost two decades, but it also felt so rewarding.”

Stephen Murray with the “Chicago” chorus at Vokes Theatre in Wayland in 2017
Stephen Murray with the “Chicago” chorus at Vokes Theatre in Wayland in 2017
Photo/Al Ragone

A passion for performing musicals as a teenager in high school and community theaters prompted Murray to pursue his bachelor’s degree in music from Westfield State University in 1985. Soon after, he began teaching at Bartlett High School in Webster until Proposition 2-1/2 cut music program funds in 1989.

He then worked for four years at the private Oxford Academy when it was located in the building that now houses the public Marion E. Zeh Elementary School in Northborough. While there, he wrote his first show: “Tortoise vs. Hare.” It was chosen among nationwide submissions as winner of the Anna Zornio Children’s Theatre Playwriting Award presented by the University of New Hampshire Theatre and Dance Department. Murray now has 32 published shows including musicals, plays and collaborations.

“I started writing shows at Oxford Academy because we didn’t have a budget to pay for royalties to do existing shows, but we had kids who wanted to perform,” he explained. “Recently, Zeh School did ‘Mother Goose, Inc.,’ a show I wrote for that stage over 20 years ago.”

Stephen Murray as Franz Liebkind in “The Producers” at Concord Players in 2017
Stephen Murray as Franz Liebkind in “The Producers” at Concord Players in 2017
Photo/Chris Pollari

From 1994 to 1998 he worked at Burncoat Middle and High Schools in Worcester, then from 1998 to 2003 at Shrewsbury public schools. After receiving a master’s degree in fine arts education from Fitchburg State University in 2003, Murray began his current job at Wayland Middle School.

“I try to get students to think like a musician in their everyday lives,” he noted. “Musicians don’t give up because of mistakes; musicians practice and get better. Mistakes are valuable because you can learn from them. The Wayland school district is a really good match for me with my personal teaching philosophy and how music is accepted as an important part of the community. I’ve landed in the right place.”

While Murray landed his dream job, his music education studies continued beginning in 2008 at Boston University. His doctor of musical arts degree was granted in January 2017.

“Educators never stop learning themselves,” he said. “I had come to a crossroads in my career where I could have gone in one direction or the other. The direction I chose was to learn more.”

Also in 2017, Murray returned to the stages of community theaters. That spring, he played Franz Liebkind in “The Producers” at Concord Players. That fall, he portrayed Billy Flynn in “Chicago “directed by Maryann Zschau at Vokes Theatre in Wayland. Zschau and Murray had performed together at Worcester Foothills Theatre in the ‘90s.

Murray also currently works with StarFun Theater Camp in Framingham. There, he has written shows specifically for their young performers.

“Seeing my own work performed is the same feeling that I get when I’m onstage,” he said. “It’s so much fun to be back performing again.”

For more information about Stephen Murray and his shows, visit murrayshows.com.