Play Every Town

251 252 Community Concerts for a Cooler Climate

Concerts

Up next...
  • Sheldon: Friday Sep. 30, 7:30 pm at Grace Church
  • Randolph: Friday Oct. 7, 7 pm at the Chandler Center for the Arts
  • Chelsea: Saturday Oct. 15, 7:30 pm at United Church
  • Chester: Sunday Oct. 23, 4 pm at the First Universalist Church
  • Northfield: Friday Oct. 28, 7 pm at the United Church

Scroll down for calendar view...or click on the map for town concert info

Write-ups of past concerts are below (scroll down past the calendar) in alphabetical order

recently posted:
Newport City write-up posted 9/21
Calais write-up posted 9/15

Cambridge write-up coming soon

Berlin

Concert Ten: Aug. 21, 2022 at the Capital City Grange

When our dear friend Alison Forrest suggested I play the Berlin concert at the Capital City Grange (which, despite the name, lies just outside the Montpelier city limits) I was pretty sure that there must be fancier pianos elsewhere in town, but I knew I had to say yes.

For one thing, this is not just a one-time Grange Hall (I suspect I will play quite a few—there were once about 200 Granges in the state) but a living Grange organization, one of only 18 still active in Vermont today. And the Grange movement was founded to give small farmers a voice and political power so they could hold their own in dealings with (for example) the railroad companies, which were gouging farmers on freight rates, and the U.S. government, which was not providing free rural mail delivery. Kind of like ordinary people today trying to confront the power of fossil fuel companies and the governments they have captured.

Moreover, this particular Grange is home to an active music and dance scene, hosting (among other things) biweekly contra dances with large enthusiastic crowds and first-rate bands, which my family has attended ever since moving to Vermont. When an earlier generation of Grange members was starting to age out of active participation in the 1990s, they invited the contradancers and Church of Christ, who were then renting the use of the building, to join the Grange, with the result that the present membership and officers are mostly dancers and musicians (and/or Christians).

And finally: when the dancer-Grangers replaced the floor, Mike Ziegler, a dentist and amateur luthier, took some of the original maple floorboards and made them into a mandolin—which is now played by our daughter. Clearly, I had to play the Capital City Grange.

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The Grange Hall (P of H = Patrons of Husbandry)


Sylvia Parker and I try out the piano

Stella tries out the limelight as Grange President Tim Swartz and I futz with the lights


The program


The engaged audience of about 70 was our largest since Burlington

I want to say we exceeded capacity, but really these folks just liked chilling on the porch

Even before I came to Vermont, I knew that Hungarian composer Bela Bartok spent his first summer in the U.S. here, because I had read The Naked Face of Genius, a book about Bartok’s time in Vermont written by his host, Hungarian-American pianist Agatha Fassett. When I arrived at UVM, I was delighted to learn that my colleague and fellow pianist, Sylvia Parker, lived in the town where Bartok had stayed—in fact just down the road—and had made herself the leading authority on Bartok’s Vermont sojourn. You can read her fascinating history of the property where Bartok stayed, and its colorful residents across the years, in the article A Riverton Retreat: Royal Charter to State Forest.

So for this concert, I invited Sylvia to arrange some of the pieces of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos that already had a second piano part for piano 4-hands . (Bartok wrote some music for two pianos, but none for piano 4-hands.) I also programmed his Six Romanian Dances (funnily enough, during his time in Vermont in 1941 Bartok “worked diligently on preparing his now famous Rumanian folk music collection for publication”, according to Sylvia’s article above) and my own “Bela’s Blues”, which riffs on his time in the US.


Bartok on the balcony in Berlin, 1941

As I said when introducing the Dances, it’s not impossible that Bartok came down to the Grange to see a dance—he was, after all, an inveterate observer of local music traditions. He would in any case have approved of the venue: he was a big fan of farmers, and it pained him that his host Agatha Fassett let the extensive, formerly cultivated lands of her Vermont summer house go to waste (i.e. back to the native forest we now highly prize).

Selections from Mikrokosmos, arr. by Sylvia Parker


Bartok’s Six Romanian Dances, with intro chat


My “Bela’s Blues”, with intro chat


“Celebration Rag” by my former UVM student and Berlin native Preston Murphy


Scarlatti Sonata in D Minor, K.10 (preceded by 10 ii-V-I’s)

The first time you perform a piece, it usually has all kinds of rough edges—not always the performance you want to memorialize. But I feel it necessary to document each Scarlatti sonata in this project, even though they’re all first performances for me!

Alison Forrest and I perform the interpretive dance “Where Are We Now?” (as another David once asked in another Berlin)


Alison, who is Chaplain of the Capital City Grange, colors in Berlin

Alison is a great dancer and dances everything she does

...about the piano

Ivers & Pond serial no. 43896 was manufactured around 1906. Like many of the large “upright grands” from the golden era of piano manufacture, it has a big sound and as satisfying and rich a bass tone as you will find on an upright. And like any piano of that vintage, unless it has been extraordinarily cared for or thoroughly rebuilt, it has some recalcitrant repetition and worn or compacted hammer felts. But while it may lack in fine-tuned control and dynamic nuance, it has tone, which is the piano equivalent of soul.

Tom McNeil, an area piano technician whom we first encountered as the rebuilder of the Steinway grand in the Bryan Memorial Gallery in Cambridge, is active in the Capital City Grange. He got wind of this piano’s availability when its owner passed away, and recommended that the Grange exchange its tired upright for this one.

The newly acquired piano was dedicated to the memory of Bill Spear, who was a talented, versatile, and much appreciated Grange Musician. This does not, I learned, mean simply “a musician in the Grange”—apparently, Grange Musician is an official, and mandatory, Grange office.

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Brownington

Concert Two: 5/15/22 at the Brownington Congregational Church

This first concert away from my home base of UVM was also the first on-the-road concert to be arranged. When I saw that the annual outing of the 251 Club was scheduled for the Old Stone House Museum the week after our launch concert, I took the museum’s amazing virtual tour and saw that it houses an astonishing number of vintage keyboard instruments, from toy pianos to spinets and pump organs...but not (according to Associate Director of Operations Bob Hunt) a piano in good working order.

However, Bob told me that the equally historic Brownington Congregational Church, just across the street, had a Steinway baby grand, and immediately volunteered to put me in touch with its music director, Mark Violette. Mark turned out to be more than a generous host and presenter. He offered the church choir as colloborators, and suggested I contact composer Sara Doncaster, music teacher at the nearby Lake Region Union High School to find a student participant as well. Sara, in addition to helping with publicity, asked Matthew Faust, a Brownington student, to perform, while Mark reached out to Darryl Kubian, a Brownington violinist also eager to play. It was enormously heartening to have so much enthusiasm and so much community support and participation for our very first away game, and a great augury for the project as a whole. (click images to embiggen)

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Welcome stone


Concert poster, bookended by handyman ad and majestic reflected white pine

The program


Alexander Twilight, who built the school that is now the Old Stone House Museum, preached at the...


...Brownington Congregational Church, host of Concert #2


Mark Violette, impresario for this concert, did the honors filling in the town of Brownington on our map

The enthusiastic audience of 40 was well fitted to the small church.


Scarlatti Sonata in G Major, K.2 (preceded by 2 ii-V-I’s)


Darryl Kubian joins me for the Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs


The closer, “Stride Rite”, with a nice panning shot of the audience at the end

...about the piano

Steinway serial no. 277,782 is a 5'10" model L in American walnut, manufactured in 1934. Brownington Congregational music director Mark Violette relates that the piano was originally in the Samuel Read Hall House, an 1831 Federal-style building directly across the street from the church, where Samuel Read Hall served as pastor. Rev. Hall sounds like an interesting guy: home-schooled himself, he became a pioneering educator, establishing the first teacher-training school in the country. He is credited with the idea of putting a large slate at the front of the classroom—that is, he invented the blackboard. Among the “obstacles to instruction” he lists in his Lectures on School Keeping are the wealthy sending their kids to private schools, and poor remuneration for teachers...in 1829, hmmm.
Eventually the piano was sold to a Mike in Lyndonville, 30 miles south. When the time came for him to move, Mike was looking to donate the piano, he asked his teacher if he knew of a worthy recipient. His teacher happened to be...Mark Violette, who completely disinterestedly suggested that the piano be given to the Brownington Congregational Church, thus returning it (almost) to its original home.

That’s me in front of the Samuel Read Hall House

This is one of the many quaint and curious vintage keyboard instruments in the Old Stone House Museum I did not perform on. You can check out their virtual tour to see more. I include this one because it was made by the Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro Vermont, which was once one of the largest organ companies, employing 700 workers at its peak.

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Burlington

Launch Concert: 5/6/22 in UVM’s Recital Hall

A warm audience of 70 was present to see the project off. The first concert in this 251 252-concert series featured a number of firsts: Beethoven’s first sonata, Bach’s first published keyboard suite, and Scarlatti’s first and also 251st keyboard sonatas, plus various ragtime and stride pieces.

My self-assessment of the performance is in this blog post.

Images and video follow—as well as the first installment of the about the piano feature. Every piano has a story, and for each venue, I will tell some of it here.

(click images to embiggen)


The program


Bert Crosby set up the lighting to cast UVM’s Recital Hall organ in full green-and-gold splendor


A brief selection from the second half featuring the evening’s birthday boys, Tchaikovsky and Brahms


Post-concert, I address a coterie of young fans, who collectively brought the audience average age from over 60 down to the mid-40s


Reception goodies featuring Vermonty cookies! (on left), courtesy of Annelies McVoy


Poster

...about the piano

The UVM Recital Hall’s 9-foot Steinway concert Model D was given in honor, and at the instigation, of outgoing UVM President Edwin Colodny in 2003. It was selected from the Steinway factory in New York by my UVM colleagues Paul Orgel and Sylvia Parker a few years before I arrived at UVM. There’s a nice story about it here, written on the occasion of the piano’s 10th anniversary gala concert in 2013.

Pianists who play the UVM Recital Hall traditionally sign the frame. This snapshot highlights the signature of William Bolcom, composer of the Graceful Ghost Rag, which I played on this inaugural Play Every Town concert. (I was unable to locate signatures of other composers on the program such as Bach, Beethoven, or Scarlatti.)

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Calais

Concert Twelve: 9/10/22

at the Frank Suchomel Memorial Arts Center

When this project was in the planning stages, I spoke to my colleague Paul Orgel to get his feedback. He asked if I knew about pianist and Vermont native Adam Tendler’s similar endeavor in which, fresh out of music school, he played a program of 20th-century American piano music in each of the 50 states. I did not, so Paul lent me Adam’s excellent book about his adventure, 88x50: A Memoir of Sexual Discovery, Modern Music and the United States of America.

Then Paul told me that Adam was curating the inaugural concert season of the Frank Suchomel Memorial Arts Center, a series of solo piano recitals featuring Vermont pianists, and that I should ask to be on it. Which I did, and Adam and the Suchomel board were graciously accommodating, and this concert was booked.

Adam, who spends most of his time in NYC, could not attend, but he sent his mother, who is still in the area.

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The road to Adamant


The Adamant Music School main building


Adamant Pond


Picnic

Frank Suchomel was first a student, then eventually principal benefactor and president of the Adamant Music School, which has been hosting intensive summer piano workshops since 1942. The school is so called because it is in the village of Adamant, home to granite quarries that remained active until the mid-20th century. The village of Adamant is so called because some of its residents were unhappy with its original name of Sodom. The village of Sodom was so called, some say, because it had no church. I find this hard to believe. Even in the much churchier Vermont of the nineteenth century, a name as trenchant as Sodom must have been based on what was going on there of a Sunday (not hard to imagine given the population of mostly single granite quarry workers) rather than on what wasn’t. Anyway, in 1905, residents petitioned to change the name to Adamant, after the granite quarries and the hardness of their stone; as was supposedly said, “A name perhaps as hard but not as wicked.” The village is also noteworthy for the oldest (and smallest) still-active cooperative store in the state, the Adamant Co-op, established in 1935.

Frank passed away in October 2021 and the concert series (which is independent of the school) was initiated in his honor.


Granite sculpture in the sculpture garden


Adamant is big on granite


Even a granite doghouse; Stella grudgingly models


Jean Palmisano fills in Calais

As this was part of a solo piano series, I did not seek a local collaborator for this program. Though small (capacity ca. 50; attendance for my concert ca. 30) the venue was lavishly and expertly staffed with a tech/support crew of three plus Adamant Community Cultural Foundation/Suchomel administrator Jean Palmisano.

The Suchomel Center made its own professional recording of the entire concert, which will be on YouTube (I'll add a link when it’s up).


Piano


Program


Playing


Palaver


Porch


Pscarlatti
Sonata in G minor, no. 12 (preceded by 12 ii-V-I’s)

...about the piano

Steinway serial no. 378564 is a Model L manufactured in 1962 and belonged to Frank Suchomel. Once one of the 40+ practice pianos scattered among the many buildings of the Adamant Music School, it was moved here to anchor the performances in the Frank Suchomel Memorial Gallery.

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Guilford

Concert Seven: 7/9/22 at the Guilford Community Church

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This seventh concert was actually the result of our first invitation. Steve Damon, a music teacher at Guilford Central School, saw the very first news story about our project on the UVM Arts & Sciences website and was the very first to volunteer to arrange an “away” gig.

Guilford, which was the most populous town in Vermont in the state’s first census (1791), is home to not one but two Vermont music dynasties, the Serkins and the Amidons. The concert was in the Guilford Community Church, where Peter Amidon is choir director, for an audience of 50.

I was thrilled and honored to perform “Spencer the Rover” with Peter and Mary Alice, with Peter’s charming piano arrangement. As for Serkins, cellist Judith was unavailable (Steve tried!). But Steve located yet another talented Guilford music family, so I had the pleasure of performing an improvised trio with the 10-year-old Banas twins Chloe and Daphne.


Guilford Community Church


The program


Concert coordinator Steve Damon fills in Guilford


Scarlatti Sonata in G minor, no. 7 (preceded by 7 ii-V-I’s)


Untitled trio by the 10-yr-old Banas twins


Peter and Mary Alice Amidon sing “Spencer the Rover”


Steve Sweeting’s “Kitchen Rag”

...about the piano

The beautiful Wurlitzer grand was purchased about 20 years ago under Peter’s direction. It is very well maintained and dynamically responsive, with a warm sound. The touch was surprisingly heavy; that became less surprising when I learned that later Wurlitzers were manufactured by the Baldwin company.

I'd never performed on a Wurlitzer before. The company’s main claim to fame is the giant theater organs that were among the most advanced electronic instruments of their time. But they also made pianos, mostly entry-level spinets and consoles....plus (the Wikipedia article was a revelation) jukeboxes, coin-operated player pianos (a precursor to jukeboxes), high-end radios, kitchen appliances, carnival rides, and (during WW2) bomb proximity fuses.

While conversion of civilian factories to military production during wartime is not unusual, military procurement was also the source of the company‘s initial financial success; the company was “was an early American defense contractor, being a major supplier of musical instruments to the U.S. military during the American Civil War and Spanish–American War” (per Wikipedia).

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Hardwick

Concert Four: 6/12/22 at the Hazen Union School

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The fourth concert was the first of what will doubtless be many to be held in school auditoriums. (Q: Why do you play high schools? A: Because that’s where the pianos are.) It was also the first where I got to collaborate with a former student, Leah Gagnon, who started at UVM in 2008, the same year I did. Leah, now the instrumental music teacher at Hazen Union (most Vermont high schools and middle schools serve multiple towns), organized the concert and collaborated with me on the Poulenc Flute Sonata. It was delightful and gratifying to play with an alum on her native territory, and made me feel engaged with the University’s mission in a particular way I had not felt before.

Leah also arranged for me to play with her vocal music colleague, Mavis MacNeil, who sang Brahms and also her own setting of Robert Frost’s “The Oven Bird”. Mavis’s music was beautifully suited to the poem: at once vernacular and modernist, natural and artful, just like Frost’s phraseology. It is taken from Mavis’ set “Early Frost”, which is one of the best song-set names ever. Mavis, in turn, put me together with Hazen student Sam Avery, who sang Ned Rorem’s “I Never Knew”.


Hazen Union auditorium. How do all 1970s U.S. school buildings look the same?


The program


Soprano, composer, and Hazen vocal music teacher Mavis MacNeil


Hazen student soprano Sam Avery


Scarlatti Sonata in G minor, no. 4 (preceded by 4 ii-V-I’s)


“The Oven Bird” (Frost) composed and sung by Hazen Union vocal music teacher Mavis MacNeil


Poulenc, Sonata for Flute and piano, performed by Hazen Union instrumental music teacher Leah Gagnon

The concert was attended by an audience of 23—21 humans and two dogs. One of the latter was our Stella. She has some high-maintenance conditions and is neurotic about being doggy-sat, so she’s been a regular member of the road crew on this project.

Her master’s voice. Stella was a respectful listener, kept happy by her new buddy Connor


Leah fills in Hardwick. Schoolteachers are good at coloring inside the lines


Post-concert chilling at the Lamoille River, which runs through Hardwick

...about the piano

Baldwin serial no. 437,448 was manufactured in 1991. It is a console upright (i.e. between 41-45" tall, larger than a spinet but smaller than a studio upright or upright grand). I did not learn anything about its provenance...but in a way, that seems fitting. In general the mass-produced uprights of the post-WW2 era, particularly spinets and consoles, feel and sound generic and utilitarian. Well-made models that are well maintained are responsive and can sound good, but unlike the older and often much larger upright grands of the “golden era” of piano manufacture, they almost never have any individual voice. At best they handle well, but they rarely inspire. And when there are any flaws (sticky keys, compacted hammers, faulty return springs) there is no redeeming character to compensate for these hindrances. Still, it was somehow apt that this first concert in a school setting was on a quintessentially “institutional” instrument.

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Newport City

Concert Thirteen: 10/12/22 at Newport United Church

We arrived in Newport City on a lovely evening with the light and the leaves dropping early hints of autumn.

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Lake Memphramagog, view from St. Mary Star of the Sea


Lake Memphramagog, view from Newport waterfront


Newport United Church


The program

A small but appreciative audience of 18 attended the concert. We were fortunate to have three young local singers join in: North Country Union High School seniors Marelle Mosher and Ryan Carpenter, and Newport Elementary teacher Saigelyn Green, who also composed one of the songs she sang. Like Mavis MacNeil, another singer, composer, and public school music teacher, who joined me on the Hardwick concert. Saige got her start composing in Vermont’s wonderful statewide composition mentorship program Music-COMP.


Scarlatti Sonata in G major, K.13 (preceded by 13 ii-V-I’s)


Ryan sings Ciampi’s “Nina”


Marelle sings “Scarborough Fair”


Saigelyn sings her own “Something More”

This is a good place to mention another area composer and educator: Sara Doncaster, who teaches at Lake Region Union High School and who has been the champion supercontact for the northern reaches of this tour. It was Sara who put me in contact with Saigelyn and also with Danielle Carrier (choral teacher at North Country Union HS) who recommended Ryan and Marelle. Sara knows the area in and out—she ran a new music festival in the north country for years—and saved us an enormous amount of legwork by pointing us to the best places to play in several towns, as well as pointing us to local musicians for collaborations. She is seriously connected, and generous in sharing her connections.


Channeling...


...Marcel...


...Marceau?

Now I’m just being artsy

Six Preludes by Jim Romeo...seemingly artless

Cam Green, Saige’s mom, filled in Newport City

A long day

...about the piano

Yamaha serial no. 3894848 was manufactured in Hamamatsu, Japan in 1984. It is a model C7, the largest (7'6") of the "Conservatory" grand series and just one step below its top concert-hall model. It was donated in 1986 by Edwin B. & Genevieve Pouty Gage, Newport residents who also endowed a local charitable trust and were benefactors of many other area organizations including the United Christian Academy, the Holland Dialysis Center at North Country Hospital, the Goodrich Memorial Library, and the Welcome Center.
High-end Yamahas like the C7 are among the most markedly responsive pianos. That means they are sensitive to minute differences in attack weight, and translate those differences to significant change in volume and tone. This is both wonderful and scary: the most subtle nuances of expression are possible, but the high responsiveness means there’s no hiding any sloppiness. Meanwhile, no. 3894848 was in quite decent but not perfect regulation. A single piano key consists of over 100 parts, any of which may wear slightly differently from note to note. On many pianos, this level of irregularity would have been fairly insignificant, but because of the Yamaha’s exquisite responsiveness, these little differences kept me constantly on my toes (fingers).

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Rockingham

Concert Six: 7/8/22 at Main Street Arts in Saxtons River

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The Rockingham concert, with 40 in attendance, was our first foray into southern Vermont. We had a concert scheduled for the next day in Guilford, the farthest-but-one town from our home base in northwestern part of the state; so, to cut down overall travel, we looked to find another concert in the area, making this our first double-header weekend and our first overnight. That’s why our Chevy Bolt is packed so full. (It’s amazing what a roomy car you can build onto a small chassis if you leave out the engine, transmission, and gas tank.)

This was also the first concert since Essex Junction’s “divorce” from the Town of Essex became official on July 1, 2022–hence the change from 251 to 252 in the program.

Maryann McArdle, a counselor at Vermont Academy, invited us to play at Main Street Arts in Saxtons River (the town of Rockingham includes two sizable villages some distance apart, so people more often indicate location with “Saxtons River” or “Bellows Falls” than “Rockingham”). She suggested not one but two different young singers, Ruby Besson and Kaylee Desmarais, as local collaborators. Meanwhile I had asked our old friend Julane Deener if she would sing; she had to decline but recommended a young singer from just across the border in New Hampshire (nobody’s perfect), Alyssa Becker, who studied for many years with Julane in Bellows Falls. So this was also a triple-header as regards collaborations.


The venue


It was originally an Odd Fellows lodge


An evocative ghost barn sits across the street


The program


Concert host Maryann McArdle fills in Rockingham


Scarlatti Sonata in F major, K.6 (preceded by 6 ii-V-I’s)


”Burn” from Hamilton,sung by Ruby Besson, a rising sophomore at Vermont Academy


“Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen“ (H. Isaac)


Alyssa Becker sings “Songs My Mother Taught Me” (Dvorak op. 55, no. 4)


“Who Else” and “Another Time” by Eve Beglarian


The old Bellows Falls hydroelectric plant

That last picture shows Stella and me at the Bellows Falls station of Great River Hydro, formerly the New England Power Association, which draws electric power from the Connecticut River. The 1928 buildings you see here are as abandoned as the ghost barn above (and clearly haunted) but the generating station is in service and the wires were humming as we walked by. Here's a historic photo of the station, which sits on an island in the middle of the river, halfway between Vermont and New Hampshire.

...about the piano

Steinway serial no. 289310 is a model M manufactured in 1937. it was donated by long-time MSA supporter Jamie Eckley some years back. William Ballard tunes this piano for MSA events for free as a service to the community. Thank you Bill and Jamie!

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Rutland Town

Concert Nine: 7/22/22 at The Gables at East Mountain

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Scarlatti Sonata in D minor, K.9 (preceded by 9 ii-V-I’s)

There are a number of options to play in Rutland, but most of them are in Rutland City, which is a distinct municipality that separated in 1892 from Rutland Town, which now surrounds the city. Other chunks of what was once Rutland Town were split off to form Proctor and West Rutland. The end result is that there are not a lot of public buildings in Rutland Town. So we were happy to accept the invitation of Stephanie Coltey to play at The Gables, a senior living center, even though the concert would not be open to the public because of strict Covid restrictions, knowing that there would be a future concert in Rutland City in a more open setting. I played for an appreciative audience of 35 Gables residents.
I noticed a funny thing about my thinking when playing for an all-seniors crowd. I’ve played senior centers my whole performing career, and I often come prepared to play some of what is likely “their music”—which to me means the popular music of the 1930s and 1940s, the Great American Songbook. But of course, that’s the music of the seniors of my youth. Today’s seniors might have been at Woodstock. Although I unconsciously update my awareness of what’s current for a general audience, for some reason “seniors” are for me frozen in 1985. By the same token, I imagine them 50 years older than I am, where in reality some members of the Gables audience might have had just a dozen years on me.

The program


Gables Activities Director Stephanie Coltey filled in Rutland Town

Apparently I need my hands for talking as well as playing.

...about the piano

This Nordiska (DG-08810) was the first I’ve encountered. From the Pickle Piano Company website:
The Nordiska Piano Company was founded over 100 years ago in the Swedish town of Vetlanda. Soon after, Nordiska pianos were known throughout Europe for their advanced scale design and superior sound. In 1988, Europe was in the midst of a deep recession, and the Swedish piano manufacturer ceased operations. The Dongbei Piano Company, located in China, aspired to produce a superior Chinese piano and proceeded to acquire the scale designs, machinery, and virtually everything else from the Nordiska Piano Company.
I wasn’t able to date the piano precisely, but I’m pretty sure it’s from the Dongbei era. It was very evenly regulated, but the repetition was oddly sluggish (as you can maybe hear from some kludgy trills in the Scarlatti above). The residents make good use of it, including a fine pianist who gives regular concerts for his fellow Gables denizens. One of them asked me what I thought of it; I said it was great to find a grand piano that was regularly played and tuned. She said “Well, we don’t like it!” Apparently, it was bought by a prior activities director who failed to consult with the many musical residents. That said, my real struggle was with the AC, which we had to leave on (it was a muggy day in the 90s) but which had a loud fan that really messed with my pitch perception.

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Strafford

Concert Eight: 7/15/22 at The United Church of Strafford

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The United Church of Strafford lies in the main (upper) village, which is almost implausibly picturesque, particularly on this bluebird day.


The Town House, 1799


Historical marker


The venue, 1832


We take Strafford, 2022


The post office in the old brick store


Inside the P.O. They also serve up free coffee!


Posted in the post office

The church is just down the street from the home of Senator Justin Morrill, author of the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act which gave significant funding to public colleges and universities all over the US, including the University of Vermont. I used to think of the Act as an unqualifiedly Good Thing, but as with all settler history, the reality is more complex. As this article in the Burlington Free Press enumerates, the Act gave UVM the proceeds from the sale of 150,000 acres of Western real estate, much of it newly and violently taken from its native inhabitants.

Strafford was also home to William Sloane Coffin, a leader in the Civil Rights and peace movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and later the nuclear disarmament and gay rights movements. The church’s community room had a display made by Sunday school students about Coffin and making difficult social choices. Funny connection: Coffin planned a career as a concert pianist and studied piano at Yale. His first wife was Eva Rubinstein, a daughter of piano giant Arthur Rubinstein.

This concert originated in an invitation by Cameron Speth, a climate activist and member of the congregation. About 45 people attended. Pianist Annemieke McLane is the church’s music director, and I was delighted when she agreed to join me in the Eight Czech Duets of my late composition teacher Karel Husa.


The program


Annemieke and I rehearse the Husa


The audience, Annemieke in front. She cleans up good!

Annemieke lives in the adjoining town of Sharon, but we decided she could count as local to Strafford because of her role in the church. We threw the Husa together in one hot afternoon rehearsal. It went over well, but we look forward to a second chance when Play Every Town comes to Sharon—maybe I’ll post that performance.

Cameron has filled in Strafford


Scarlatti Sonata in G minor, K.8
(preceded by 8 ii-V-I’s)

Eve Beglarian, “Another Time”


Constant companion and audience member Stella takes a break

Annemieke arranges monthly concerts in the church, and it is the custom to leave a basket at the door for donations. Meanwhile, while I suggest in my written programs that attendees consider donating to various climate action organizations, I have not yet made any appeals from the bench during my concerts, though that’s something my team and I have considered. But because it was customary at the United Church, and because this was such an engaged and generous audience, we collected $381 for climate action. If that were to happen at each of these concerts, we’d eventually pull in close to $100,000. Maybe it’s time for me to incorporate a donations pitch into my concert spiel!

...about the piano

Yamaha J2007322 was manufactured in Jakarta in 2002. It was purchased for the church by English Professor Mike Manheim, Strafford resident and lover of the arts. A fund was established in Mike’s name after his passing in 2011 to support musical offerings at the church. His widow Martha, 97 at this writing, remains an active member of the church and its social justice mission.* The piano is a central feature of church life, often used in the monthly concerts oragnized by Annemieke as music director.

At just under 5 feet, the GA1 model is the smallest of Yamaha grands. The touch was heavier than most Yamahas, and the action was a little unpredictable. Annemieke was glad my assessment matched hers, as it can be hard to be objective about a piano one is very used to, and she may recommend that the church have the action regulated.

*Noting the unusual spelling of Manheim, I followed up and realized that the Manheim’s son Dan, also an English professor, was my colleague in my first full-time teaching position at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Small world!

epilog

Something I try to convey at all my concerts is that renouncing flying has not been a privation, but a boon. You can’t do everything, and if I were flying all over the world I would not be tramping all over Vermont. There is so much here, so much beauty, so much variety. Going from town to town can feel like traveling between worlds and even centuries.

Because our daughter had a dance performance the day after the Strafford concert in nearby Corinth, my wife and I set up a tent at our son’s college roommate Bryn’s place in Chelsea. Bryn is active in clean energy work and works with U.S. PIRG, as does his girlfriend R.J. R.J., it turns out, is named for Rachel Carson, while her St. Bernard Ralph is named for Ralph Nader.


Our campsite at Bryn’s house in Chelsea


Bryn, Ralph, R.J.


Ralph had fun with my (fortunately cheap OTC) sunglasses


Stella on Wright’s Mountain in Bradford


View from the summit


At the trailhead

Camping by Bryn’s pond, waking up to three (!) kingfishers battling for this prime territory in the pre-dawn, hiking nearby Wright’s Mountain...it is hard to see this as self-denial.

In this Twitter thread, climatologist Peter Kalmus describes how reducing his fossil fuel use made his life immediately richer and more enjoyable. Drastic changes are necessary, and one way or another they are inevitable. But if we do it right, they do not have to be miserable.

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Underhill

Concert Three: 5/21/22 at the United Church of Underhill

click any image to enlarge

Concert #3 was scheduled at the last minute in a response to a PR emergency. Seven Days was about to print a feature on the Play Every Town project. While we had a dozen upcoming engagements nearly settled, the next actually confirmed date was September 10 in Adamant. I was concerned that an article saying “David will play about a concert a week for the next 4+ years...the next one is in 4 months” would not put the project in the best light.

Did I pre-empt ice cream?


The church, with OG Superfan Katherine Kjelleren on the right

Fortunately the kind folks at United Church of Underhill not only agreed to host the concert on just over a week’s notice, the sponsoring group United for Justice managed to scramble an appreciative crowd of 35, an impressive turnout for such a quick turnaround.


I talk as well as play. The beautiful organ is a Mason & Hamlin—I didn’t know they made organs


The program


Sandy Wilmot, member of United for Justice and point person for this concert, fills in Underhill


Scarlatti Sonata in A minor, no. 3
(preceded by 3 ii-V-I’s)


Beethoven Sonata no. 1 in F minor, mvts. 1 & 2. I talk about playing “grand” repertoire on a small piano in this blog post


Joplin, Gladiolus Rag

side-note: the belfry wall

The inner plaster wall of the United Church belfry tower is covered in graffiti. Photos below courtesy of town historian Gary Irish.

Of Homer Rockwood, Gary writes, “He signed on November 17, 1878, the oldest dated signature there. He lived across the street, and was a druggist in the Underhill Drug Store. He also was a musician who played in the Underhill Citizens Band, and who played a concert in the church in February, 1889.” How about that?

After the concert, Gary invited me to sign. I signed just to the right of one of the largest inscriptions, which marks the end of World War I. Over a century later, you can sense the writer’s joyous relief in the script’s exuberant curvature and extravagant proportions, so unlike the frugal, tight hands of most of the old autographs. There was a catch in my throat as I signed. Our current situation is daunting and dire, its magnitude unprecedented in human history. But it is not the first time people have faced seeming doom.


The oldest dated graffito


The newest, as of this writing


My signature in context

...about the piano

The United Church of Underhill’s Yamaha U186907 console upright was made in South Haven, Michigan in 1985. It was purchased new and given to the church by the family of Constance Bagshaw to honor her memory. Lois Nassau, the church’s former music director, was in attendance at the Play Every Town concert and related that Connie and her husband Harvey were longtime enthusiastic members of the choir. They selected the piano from “a dealer in Essex Junction”—presumably Contois Music, which had the Yamaha franchise at that time.

Incidentally, the gorgeous Mason and Hamlin reed organ to the left of the altar was purchased in 1894 by the Women’s Fellowship of the church, each member having earned one dollar toward the cost.

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Westmore

Concert Eleven: 8/28/22 at the Westmore Community Church

The town of Westmore is home to stunning glacial Lake Willoughby. Robert Frost camped there and set the narrative monolog “A Servant to Servants” on its shore. This concert was on a clear, calm, warm day in late August, so we decided (along with hundreds of others, the majority from Quebec) to spend the time before the concert on the water. It is famously clear—we could see colored reflections and sharp shadows on the bottom even at several feet—and deep (over 320 feet). As I wrote in my recent Strafford concert write-up, renouncing air travel to tour within Vermont is pretty hard to cast as self-denial.

click any image to enlarge


Portrait of the Artist as an Outdoorsman


Our terminal but stalwart Stella paddles along


Westmore Community Church (1894)


The haps

The concert was set up by Westmore Community Church organist Mark Violette, who was also the point person for the tour’s first “away” concert in Brownington, where he is likewise the music director. Another organist present among the audience of just over 50 was Stephen Morse, who completed a project not unlike mine: he traveled Vermont to play every one of its ~210 functioning church organs and wrote a book about them (I’ll add a link if I can). Steve also shared great tips about where to play in nearby small towns.


The program


The audience


Scarlatti Sonata in C minor, no. 11
(preceded by 11 ii-V-I’s)


Six Preludes by James Romeo, my first composition teacher

Speaking of small towns: Westmore is in the bottom 10% of Vermont towns by population, our smallest host town so far. The official census count is 357, so I could say that the audience of over 50 represented about 15% of the town population. But that would be me lying with statistics, as the summer population is several times the year-round number.


Westmore violinst Peter Miller joined me for Corelli


Carol Davis fills in Westmore


Candelabra : Liberace :: Hydrangeae : Feurzeig


Swimming with kayaks is tiring

One of the 357 year-round residents is Carol Davis, who has “held every office in the church” at one time or another and who helped to make the concert happen. She did the honors of filling in Westmore on the Play Every Town map.

...about the piano

This Yamaha console was bought in the 1970s as part of a generalized memorial. Carmen Anderson, who was at the concert, explained that Head Deacon Mildred Davis “ran” the church, but was not musical. So she asked Carmen’s mother Florence Davis, her (Millie’s) sister-in-law, who was organist of the church for 30 years, to come with her to Wells River to pick out the instrument.

The piano is excellently maintained by technician John Young and was perfectly even and tuned, though as with most console uprights in my experience, it is difficult to produce a real pianissimo.

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