Remembering Samuel Adams, Founder of NEC’s School of Continuing Education

Sam Adams

Samuel Adams, a beloved figure in New England Conservatory's history who expanded community access to music education as the founder of NEC's School of Continuing Education, passed away this June. He was 88. 

Adams began his impactful, decades-long career at NEC as a piano faculty member for the Preparatory School, later becoming a school administrator in 1983. He directed the Community Services and Adult Education programs from 1989-1991, created and directed the NEC Summer School from 1992-2001, and created and directed NEC's School of Continuing Education — with credit-bearing certificate programs, classes, and ensembles — starting in the fall of 1992.

A profoundly kind presence on campus and beyond (“His integrity and gentle, kind character are unforgettable,” remembered friend and NEC colleague Lilit Karapetian-Shougarian), Adams was admired for his deep dedication to music as an instrumentalist and educator. “His skills as a pianist, organist, teacher, and administrator enriched Boston’s music community, and his dedication to all aspects of his work contributed to the lives of his students, fellow teachers, church musicians, and members,” expressed Jean Stackhouse, a long-time colleague of Adams’ who played a vital role in the growth of NEC Prep as its former Director of Education and Piano Department Chair.

Years before joining NEC’s faculty, Adams arrived on campus as a young pianist in the mid-1960s, earning his Master of Music in Piano Performance in 1967. He then moved to Berlin, Germany, upon receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Hochschule für Musik Berlin, where he earned a Piano Arts Diploma. While in Germany, he recorded music for the Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) radio station during the Cold War.

Returning to Boston as the 1970s began, Adams picked his studies of piano and organ back up, starting his Doctoral degree at Boston University School of Music under the tutelage of Béla Böszörményi-Nagy. During this period, he became the Director of Music and organist for First Church in Chestnut Hill, MA, in 1972, a position he held for forty-five years until his retirement in 2017.

During his 25 years as an administrator — 1983 to 2008 — Adams' work at NEC was integral to expanding access to music education in Boston. He received the Robert A. Rachdorf Staff Award in 2001 and the prestigious Jean Stackhouse Award for Excellence in Teaching from NEC Preparatory School in 2008 in recognition of his outstanding work. “The programs under his administrative leadership reflected his detail and enthusiasm for the education of both young musicians and adults,” Stackhouse reflected.  

Adams went on to Chair the School of Continuing Education's piano faculty in 2008. He retired from NEC after decades of service in 2019.  

Colleagues at NEC remember the depth of Adams’ passion for music, his attention to detail, and the genuine care he showed his students and fellow teachers. "Sam truly loved music and teaching piano," said Natalia Harlap, who worked alongside Adams for over 20 years. "His quiet dedication and heartfelt care were immediately apparent every time he would approach you after hearing your student, be it to share his impressions, to offer support, or to acknowledge your work as a teacher."

Adams is preceded in death by his beloved partner of 60 years, Scott F. Ashley, who passed just one week before. A close colleague of Adams beautifully described the short period between their passing as “a testament to his devotion.” 

A celebration of Sam Adams’ life will be held on Sunday, October 22nd at 10:30 am at the First Church in Chestnut Hill, Chestnut Hill, MA. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in his name may be made to the music program at St. Mary of the Harbor, Provincetown, MA.