Play Every Town

251 252 Community Concerts for a Cooler Climate

Essex Junction

Concert Twenty-Six: 3/26/23 at the First Congregational Church

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First Congregational (1867/1913)


Well attended

As I told the crowd in introducing my performance of Scarlatti’s Sonata K.26, I have a bone to pick with Essex Junction. Back in 1892, Essex Junction became an “incorporated village” within the town of Essex—a uniquely Vermont designation that allows more developed areas within a town to levy local taxes for village services such as municipal water or sewage. In recent decades, there has been increasing dissatisfaction with the arrangement, and after several unsuccessful efforts, in 2022 majorities of both Town and Village residents voted to make Essex Junction a city separate from the Town of Essex.

As explained on my blog, the number of Vermont cities and towns—251—was the foundation of the musical pun behind my improvisatory intros to the Scarlatti sonatas, which are based on series of ii-V-I (i.e. 2-5-1) chord progressions. The number 251 has become iconic, having stood for exactly 100 years, from when the city of Winooski was carved off from the town of Colchester, up to the Essex/Essex Junction divorce; in fact the 251 Club, dedicated to encouraging people to visit all Vermont’s towns, decided to keep its name.

I likewise decided to stick with my ii-V-I plan (ii-V-ii progressions are too static to generate much interest, though they can be the basis for extended groove jams, as in Santana’s “Oye Como Va”). But it is perhaps fitting that it was at Essex Junction that I let go of having the number of ii-V-I progressions match the Kirkpatrick (K) number of the sonata. Instead, beginning with this concert, I allow myself instead to have that many measures of ii-V-I, or that many chords’ worth. When I get truly deep into the project, perhaps it will shift to that many beats, or that many notes…

The venue and piano came highly recommended from several people, including my colleagues Tom Cleary and First Congregational music director Bethany Blake. So when Ed Owens, who runs the Music at First series, invited us, I immediately accepted. I was also told that the Music at First audiences are enthusiastic and generous. They were for us: it was our first 3-figure crowd and our first 4-figure donation haul, which benefited 350 Vermont.

The program

The choir sings “Vermont”

Bethany fills in Essex Junction...

...whose tiny outline I had drawn in by hand

Bethany joined me for selections from my teacher Karel Husa’s Eight Czech Duets. She also led the choir in the state song and Ebenezer Child’s hymn “Vermont”, and filled in Essex Junction on the map. I had to draw in the borders of the city, which did not exist as a separate entity when the poster was printed.

Scarlatti Sonata K.26 in A major
…preceded by 26 bars of ii-V-I’s
and by some ribbing about Essex Junction’s “divorce”

Liszt, Five Hungarian Folk Songs

from Eight Czech Duets

The concert was followed by a hearty reception of soups and cookies. In attendance was Eleanor Long, manager of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra from 1983-2022 who oversaw their 251-town tour of the state in 1985-6.

...about the piano

The church’s Steinway B, serial no. 553251, is an outstanding instrument, kept in prime condition by Allan Day. It was bought new in 2001 by composer, classical guitarist, and computer scientist John Mantegna, who moved to California around 2019. It was purchased and donated to First Congregational by two church members in 2021.

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