We had checked out Chelsea village, with its handsome green and combination of Federal and Greek Revival buildings, when I played in Strafford, which lies kitty-corner to Chelsea, back in July 2022. I noted that the Town Hall piano, though venerable, was not in playing condition, and wondered if the piano in the nearby church was any better.
Independently, Dian Parker invited us to Chelsea. She and her husband are both Scarlatti fans, which made for a special attraction to the project. Dian investigated and determined that the United Church piano was acceptable. She made all the arrangements, and even saw to the piano tuning personally.
United Church (1811-13)
Jail Brook runs between the church and the Orange County Courthouse
Dian also set up our most unusual collaboration so far, with local farmer, herbalist, and poet Taylor Katz. Taylor and I decided I would improvise musical backdrops as she recited several of her magnificent poems about life, the universe, and homesteading in Vermont.
This reminded me that when Franz Liszt coined the term “recital” for a solo piano concert, he was alluding to the then-novel idea of the musician as poet.
Taylor runs the Free Verse Farm with her husband Misha Johnson, growing most of their own food as well as produce and herbal products they sell at the cooperative Free Verse Farm Shop in Chelsea Village, in what I am told is the longest continually operating storefront in Vermont. (They are also growing a son.) I found the somewhat oxymoronic use of “free” in the name of the shop fitting, as it clearly exists to serve its suppliers and customers more than profit. One encouraging sign for the survival of civilization is that “capitalism” has begun to connote—in mainstream discourse, for the first time in my life—a particular economic and political system, rather than an inevitable state of affairs, a point of patriotism, and an inseparable aspect of the concept of an open society.
Just outside the frame of the photo here, there was a milk crate full of free loaves of bread set out the evening of our concert.
Taylor & Misha’s shop in the village
Taylor suggested that the donations from this concert benefit Rural Vermont, an organization which “envisions a just and equitable world rooted in reverence for the earth and dignity for all” and to that end “organizes, educates and advocates in collaboration with local and global movements to strengthen the social, ecological and economic health of the agrarian communities that connect us all.”
“Happy Woman Blues”
Scarlatti Sonata in B-flat major, no. 16 (preceded by 16 ii-V-I’s)
Legislative Director Caroline Gordon describes Rural Vermont’s mission
Taylor, preaching it
Me, feeling it
Dian, filling it...
...in (Chelsea, that is)
...about the piano
Ginny Campbell plays the piano for services, and was fingered as the person most likely to know about its provenance. She was not at the concert, but when I called her she told me the piano has been there as long as she’s attended. How long is that? “Well, I was born on a Sunday morning, and I don’t think my mother went to church that day, but pretty much ever since”—which puts the piano here back in the 1930s at the latest.
As Huntington serial no. 39512 was manufactured in 1912, I like to imagine it was bought to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the historic Congrgational Church building (the date checks out) and that it has been here ever since. (In lieu of any further info about how the piano came to be here, I have this little
As with any piano of this age that has not been painstakingly cared for or recently rebuilt, there were some issues. Playing so much Scarlatti has made me acutely aware of room for improvement in the consistency, clarity, and speed of my trills, so I am slow to fault the instrument, but in this case the piano’s reluctant repetition exacerbated the problem. Still, I am always happier to play a venerable ancient upright grand, with tonal character, soul, waiting to be elicited from it, than a typical modern console or an electronic piano.
The instruments were known for their durability and could withstand the wear and tear of everyday playing. This positioned Huntington in the market as a piano manufacturer for the everyday household in America, and many piano lessons and in-home practice were done on these pianos. Huntington pianos were also on-par with many of the pianos at the time stylistically and were beautiful in appearance. They are known for graceful case designs and solid construction.
In 1900 the famed pianist and composer Ignacy Paderewski endorsed The Huntington Piano Company. In addition to his commercial endorsements, Paderewski personally ordered a Huntington piano for the “Paderewski Singing Society” of Chicago. The Huntington Piano Company capitalized on this endorsement by applying labels with Paderewski’s photo and written endorsement inside their pianos for posterity.
The Huntington Piano Company did not survive the Great Depression. It was bought by the Sterling Piano Company, which moved manufacture of the Huntington brand to their factory in Derby. Someone who maintains a
town website for Shelton has provided these pictures of the original factory’s destiny.