Play Every Town

251 252 Community Concerts for a Cooler Climate


Up next...

  • Rockingham: Friday July 8, 7:30 pm at Main Street Arts in Saxton’s River
  • Guilford: Saturday July 9, 3 pm at the Guilford Community Church
  • Strafford: Friday July 15, 7 pm at the Strafford United Church

    ...intervening dates to be announced soon...

  • Berlin: Sunday Aug 21, 4 pm at the Capitol City Grange
  • Westmore: Sunday Aug 28, 4 pm at the Westmore Community Church

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

Write-ups of past concerts follow below, in alphabetical order

CAMBRIDGE write-up coming soon


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)

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 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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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


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

click any image to enlarge

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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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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last updated June 28, 2022