Rokeby historic marker
Rachel Robinson Elmer, “The Metropolitan Tower on a Summer Evening”
United Methodist Church (1838)
There is much to see and ponder in Ferrisburgh, beginning with the Rokeby Museum, the only museum in the state with a focus on social activism. Rokeby is the former home of several generations of the illustrious Robinson family of artist-writer-activists, prominent figures in the Underground Railroad, the suffragist movement, and Vermont literature. The family also boasts Rachel Robinson Elmer, a pioneer of the Art Deco style whose iconic postcards of New York City recently celebrated their 100th anniversary. One might not think of northern Vermont as a hotbed of visual arts rebellion, but in the early 20th century, North Ferrisburgh hosted a dissident art colony formed by UVM and Middlebury College faculty artists dissatisfied with their schools’ lack of support for “degenerate” art styles.
Speaking of colleges, in 1961 Ferrisburgh was being considered as a site for the relocation of Johnson State College, which had outgrown its campus; this plan fell apart when the Town Clerk bought up the proposed site and attempted to charge the college double what they had agreed to pay the town. In delightful deadpan, Wikipedia goes on to inform us he “was stripped of his position of Town Clerk, and eventually convicted of an unrelated homicide.”
The village of North Ferrisburgh is now home to Vermont Cookie Love, who make the best maple creemee (in my opinion; in Vermont this is a fiercely debated issue), and to Justin and Emily Rose’s Vermont Piano Gallery . It was Justin who tipped me off to the fine piano in the United Methodist Church.
Helen Lyons (as Morgan La Fay) enumerates the husbands she’s murdered
UMC lay coordinator Jill Wilkens fills in Ferrisburgh
I was unable to explore any of these fascinating places, stories, or frozen treats on the day of my concert, though. As usual, I arrived just in time to get some photos for this writeup, set up, and rehearse, in this case with soprano and Vermont Public Classical morning host Helen Lyons. I also met up with my former student David Oliveira, who performed two of his own evocative Nocturnes.
Much of the remainder of the program was keyed to dates in Ferrisburgh history: music by the 6-year-old Mozart from 1762, the year the town was founded; Schumann’s Kinderszenen of 1838, the year the Methodist Church was built; and Joplin’s 1908 Pine Apple Rag, to commemorate the amortization of the church’s mortgage a mere 70 years later.
Helen Lyons sings Simaon/Norman’s “How Could I Ever Know”
...and “To Keep My Love Alive” by Rodgers & Hart
Two Nocturnes composed & performed by David Oliveira
Charles Ives, “The Alcotts”
Scarlatti Sonata K.41 in D minor
preceded by 41 chords of ii-V-i progression
Bonus video! Jennifer Willis on the UMC piano
The piano belonged to Florence Armstrong, whose daughter Winnie married Jennifer’s grandfather Colan. Winnie, who was weakened by a severe childhood case of rheumatic fever as a child, died during her first pregnancy. When Colan remarried, the family preserved the Armstrong name through the generations to honor Winnie’s memory. Eventually Jennifer (Armstrong DeVos) Willis inherited the piano from her “Aunt Florence” (her grandfather’s first wife’s mother).
Jennifer and her husband enjoyed the piano in their first home in Massachusetts. When they moved to Vermont, they had no room for it, and Jennifer generously gave the church use of the piano. The piano was recently reconditioned by Allan Day and is in top shape.