Play Every Town

251 252 Community Concerts for a Cooler Climate


Concert Four: 6/12/22 at the Hazen Union School

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The fourth concert was the first of what will doubtless be many to be held in school auditoriums. (Q: Why do you play high schools? A: Because that’s where the pianos are.) It was also the first where I got to collaborate with a former student, Leah Gagnon, who started at UVM in 2008, the same year I did. Leah, now the instrumental music teacher at Hazen Union (most Vermont high schools and middle schools serve multiple towns), organized the concert and collaborated with me on the Poulenc Flute Sonata. It was delightful and gratifying to play with an alum on her native territory, and made me feel engaged with the University’s mission in a particular way I had not felt before.

Leah also arranged for me to play with her vocal music colleague, Mavis MacNeil, who sang Brahms and also her own setting of Robert Frost’s “The Oven Bird”. Mavis’s music was beautifully suited to the poem: at once vernacular and modernist, natural and artful, just like Frost’s phraseology. It is taken from Mavis’ set “Early Frost”, which is one of the best song-set names ever. Mavis, in turn, put me together with Hazen student Sam Avery, who sang Ned Rorem’s “I Never Knew”.

Hazen Union auditorium. How do all 1970s U.S. school buildings look the same?

The program

Soprano, composer, and Hazen vocal music teacher Mavis MacNeil

Hazen student soprano Sam Avery

Scarlatti Sonata in G minor, no. 4 (preceded by 4 ii-V-I’s)

“The Oven Bird” (Frost) composed and sung by Hazen Union vocal music teacher Mavis MacNeil

Poulenc, Sonata for Flute and piano, performed by Hazen Union instrumental music teacher Leah Gagnon

The concert was attended by an audience of 23—21 humans and two dogs. One of the latter was our Stella. She has some high-maintenance conditions and is neurotic about being doggy-sat, so she’s been a regular member of the road crew on this project.

Her master’s voice. Stella was a respectful listener, kept happy by her new buddy Connor

Leah fills in Hardwick. Schoolteachers are good at coloring inside the lines

Post-concert chilling at the Lamoille River, which runs through Hardwick

...about the piano

Baldwin serial no. 437,448 was manufactured in 1991. It is a console upright (i.e. between 41-45" tall, larger than a spinet but smaller than a studio upright or upright grand). I did not learn anything about its provenance...but in a way, that seems fitting. In general the mass-produced uprights of the post-WW2 era, particularly spinets and consoles, feel and sound generic and utilitarian. Well-made models that are well maintained are responsive and can sound good, but unlike the older and often much larger upright grands of the “golden era” of piano manufacture, they almost never have any individual voice. At best they handle well, but they rarely inspire. And when there are any flaws (sticky keys, compacted hammers, faulty return springs) there is no redeeming character to compensate for these hindrances. Still, it was somehow apt that this first concert in a school setting was on a quintessentially “institutional” instrument.

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