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.
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 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
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
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)
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
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.