Play Every Town

251 252 Community Concerts for a Cooler Climate


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

...donations benefited 350 Vermont

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.

click any image to enlarge

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.

back to main concerts page

last updated March 01, 2023