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Keene musician/producer's uplifting collaborations hit right tone

Derrick Pendilla is a 22-year-old who has cerebral palsy and frequent seizures. Jake Velazquez is a Keene High School senior who was diagnosed with autism at age 4. Both love making music.

“When we work together, I think of the massive list of things they have to overcome to sit at the table — I just show up,” said musician/producer Adam Arnone of Keene.

Pendilla and Velazquez, both of Keene, are two of a handful of young people Arnone has worked with over the past few years to help them realize their dream of producing their own original music. Arnone offers these services on a sliding scale.

Neither young man lets his special needs define him. In fact, music-making is only one of their pursuits: Velazquez is a New Hampshire state champion cross-country runner; Pendilla, who uses a wheelchair, is an adaptive skier and volunteers with the New England Healing Sports Association to teach other young people the sport.

Arnone has an extensive background as a rap artist, recording artist and performer, currently as front man for Adam and the Flood.

Four years ago, he rapped Pendilla’s reveal through the Make-A-Wish Foundation that he and his family would be receiving a Disney cruise.

“He rapped, ‘You and your family have great news; you guys are going on a distant cruise,’ ” Pendilla recalled.

Arnone asked Pendilla to perform a song with him in return.

“One line I impressed him with was, ‘I’ll be your leader until I run out of lead/Ain’t gonna happen because I got a bunch of pencils under my bed,’ “ said Pendilla, who writes under the name Inspiration.

The lyric comes from “The Journey Has Just Begun,” now the title track of Pendilla’s album, soon to be released on Spotify. He and Arnone worked on it for the past two years at Pendilla’s home.

Arnone brought his mobile recording studio every Wednesday — and Pendilla wrote a song about it.

“One of the lines is, ‘I don’t need a music label/I got a recording studio at my dinner table,’ ” Pendilla said.

Velazquez met Arnone about five years ago at MoCo Arts’ summer creative arts camp, CAKE, where he was focusing on musical theater and where Arnone taught a songwriting class.

After working with Arnone every day at camp, Velazquez reached out to him to work on his songwriting one-on-one. Their work began with Velazquez creating a day-in-the-life video for his senior project of his experience at school, complete with an accompanying soundtrack.

Most recently under Arnone’s guidance — he also meets with Velazquez at his home — Velazquez wrote and produced an album under the name Jack Velcrow titled “Jack of All Trades,” released on Spotify last month.

Arnone’s working relationship with Pendilla and Velazquez is very different. With Velazquez, who taught himself to play the keyboard and whom Arnone taught to use recording studio software, Arnone mainly provides feedback.

“He tries to inspire me if I don’t feel like writing,” Velazquez said. “If I do have something in mind, he listens to it and tells me what’s good and what to change or add to sound even better.” Velazquez added that he especially enjoys layering different sounds in his music.

“The songs I made depended on what phase I was going through,” he explained. The album is a reflection of a teenager’s life: full of struggle, heartbreak and yearning for what the future holds.

Pendilla writes lyrics, and Arnone produces the music. Often, Arnone said, he can barely keep up with Pendilla’s prolific songwriting, which covers topics from what his seizures feel like to his close relationship with his younger sister. “Sibling Bond” is a song on the album that has an accompanying video.

Pendilla said he admires rappers who are versatile in style and substance, especially artists who can rhyme — his favorite part of songwriting.

“He’s not the slightest bit afraid or nervous to get it all out; he’s never not determined,” said Arnone, who noted that he has often seen Pendilla have a seizure in the middle of a recording session and then keep working.

Pendilla said he feels a responsibility in his songwriting, having defied the odds after doctors told him he’d never walk or talk.

A lyric in one of the songs on his album has to do with overcoming an obstacle and tells listeners they can’t go under or over it but through it.

“I’ll never give up on myself,” he said. “I can’t, because I need to keep moving forward for the kids I work with [through the New England Healing Sports Association]. I want to inspire them with my music.”

And he said he’s grateful to Arnone for showing him the way.

“He’s so knowledgeable in his career,” Pendilla said. “That he’s passing that down to me is amazing.”

He mentioned his song “Mentor and Protégé,” which is on the album.

“It’s a lot of showing off,” he said of the track, which features many highly technical rhymes. “That song makes me feel like I’ve made it, that we’re not just mentor/protégé — we’re peers.”

Arnone’s work with Velazquez inspired not only his choice to write and record music but also his college major. He’ll attend UMass Lowell next fall and study sound recording technologies.

“He helped me come out of my shell,” Velazquez said.

But Arnone, who treats both men like family, considers himself the fortunate one.

“They are being their best selves. The excitement comes from creating something, giving it shape and breathing life into these songs. My job in working with both of them is to just give them the space to exist in the way they just naturally exist,” Arnone said.

“The best part about them is they are not trying to be other people; both of them have this ability to make music that’s so honest to who they are.”


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Facing financial reality, Brattleboro congregation leaves historic home

BRATTLEBORO — Ten years ago, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer told the nation how this town’s cash-strapped First Baptist Church was selling its historic Tiffany stained-glass window to save itself.

It was “The Gift of the Magi” — a classic short story about giving up a prized possession for a greater love — come to life, she said.

A decade later, the even-leaner congregation has let go of something else: its 150-year-old home.

When local Baptists built their High Victorian Gothic-style brick building in the center of downtown in 1870, the church spilled with members.

Take Jacob Estey, a one-time plumber who saw traveling minister Emerson Andrews establish the congregation 30 years earlier with a revivalist message of social justice. Estey would found the world’s largest manufacturer of reed organs, the since-shuttered Estey Organ Co., by the time the $50,000 church ($1 million in today’s dollars) opened with what was then the town’s tallest steeple and state’s biggest bell.

Estey worshiped alongside such movers and shakers as George Brooks, owner of Main Street’s largest business block and benefactor of the local library, and Levi Fuller, Vermont governor from 1892 to 1894, who was honored with an arched Tiffany window of St. John the Divine.

But by 2009, the congregation was down to a few dozen stalwarts and an $8,000 bank account. Staring at a $34,000 annual bill for heat alone, members voted 20-4 to sell the window, prompting The Associated Press to share the news with every media outlet in the country.

“No one wants to see this Tiffany go,” Pastor Suzanne Andrews was quoted. “But when it came down to the question of do we sell the Tiffany to keep our doors open for the ministry of God, then the decision became quite clear to all of us.”

“This Tiffany window, as beautiful as it is,” she concluded, “is a material thing.”

The $85,000 sale to an Illinois museum allowed the church to continue to host services and a winter homeless shelter and soup kitchen for another five years. But the bills kept coming.

“I lost sleep over whether we’d have heat or a piece of slate fall off the roof,” recalls Karen Davis, a member since her baptism a half-century ago just before the church hosted a townwide service upon the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Facing even greater debt, the congregation sold its building in 2016 to local businessman Robert Johnson, who turned it into a nonprofit arts venue called Epsilon Spires while agreeing worship could continue under a $1,000-a-month lease. But by this fall, the 20 remaining faithful knew they couldn’t afford to pay any more rent.

“I love this beautiful building, and having to move is really hard,” Andrews said at the last service in the church. “It hurts to let go.”

The pastor read from the Bible’s book of Luke and its story of Jesus entering the temple and saying, “My house will be a house of prayer.”

“Where is the House of God today?” she then asked. “It’s not in this building where we’re worshiping now. It’s not in any other building.”

Andrews pointed to her heart.

“It’s in me, it’s in you,” she said. “It’s not in a place of brick and stone. Together we are the church.”

The congregation now is meeting at the local First United Methodist Church, constructed on the outskirts of town in 1970, when that parish moved from its own historic building. It’s not lost on the migrating Baptists that Pastor Andrews shares the same last name as the traveling preacher who, on faith alone, founded their group 180 years ago.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” Davis says. “I’m still grieving. But the potential is still there for the good we can do.”


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Keene's Hannah Grimes Center wins dispute over word 'localvore'

A business resource center in Keene announced in a news release Monday that it had won a legal battle against a Vermont app developer over use of the term “localvore.”

Burlington-based Localvore Inc., the company behind the Localvore Passport app, lodged a complaint against the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in October over the Keene organization’s domain name, www.localvore.com. That address redirects to a website for the Hannah Grimes Marketplace on Main Street, a shop for locally made gifts and treats.

A localvore is someone who strives to eat and buy locally grown and made products.

The complaint was filed with the federal Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy Panel, which resolves disputes over website names. The Vermont company holds trademarks for “Localvore” and “Localvore Today” and requested transfer of ownership of Hannah Grimes’ domain name.

Localvore Inc. offered Hannah Grimes $5,000 for the website name, according to the decision, but the Keene organization answered that it “has not attempted to sell the domain name” to the Vermont company.

According to the Dec. 4 decision, Hannah Grimes argued that it registered the domain name in 2006 — six years before Localvore Inc. launched — and that the organization has had an active localvore presence in the Monadnock Region.

To win in these cases, the complainant must prove three facts, according to the panel’s decision. While Localvore Inc. convinced the one-member panel that the domain name is confusingly similar to its own trademarks, the panel determined that Hannah Grimes used the domain name in good faith, and that it has rights to and legitimate interests in the domain.

“Hannah Grimes has had an active localvore committee since 2006, and we were one of many communities as part of a broader localvore movement that used that term to help promote programs, events and the idea of sourcing food from local entrepreneurs and farmers,” Executive Director Mary Ann Kristiansen wrote in an email to The Sentinel.

The panel noted in its decision that “localvore” is a dictionary word, which typically can’t be trademarked, and “even if they are trademarked they do not create monopoly rights.”

“The findings support that this is a generic term and we hope that it ensures localvores everywhere will be able to continue to use that term,” Kristiansen wrote.

Michael Nedell, co-founder and chief operations officer of Localvore Inc., said this morning that the domain name isn’t really being used, since it redirects to another website.

His company, which he said is the tech partner in the farm-to-table movement, would like to work with Hannah Grimes in a way that allows the domain name to serve as many local producers as possible, he said. Some technology will allow a web address to direct to a certain page in one geographical area, such as Keene, and another website elsewhere, he said.

Nedell alleged, however, that the leadership at Hannah Grimes hasn’t expressed interest in cooperating. He also stressed that his interest is in his company’s ability to help local businesses and not in suppressing people’s use of the word “localvore.”

But Kristiansen disagreed with his characterization. As the panel found, she said this morning, Hannah Grimes had the domain name long before Localvore Inc. came along, and its use is irrelevant.

“We were willing to work with them on things that would help localvores everywhere,” Kristiansen said. “… But I was very clear from the beginning that we did not have an interest in selling something that we own.”