Play Every Town

251 252 Community Concerts for a Cooler Climate


Concert Eight: 7/15/22 at The United Church of Strafford

...donations benefited 350 Vermont

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The United Church of Strafford lies in the main (upper) village, which is almost implausibly picturesque, particularly on this bluebird day.

The Town House, 1799

Historical marker

The venue, 1832

We take Strafford, 2022

The post office in the old brick store

Inside the P.O. They also serve up free coffee!

Posted in the post office

The church is just down the street from the home of Senator Justin Morrill, author of the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act which gave significant funding to public colleges and universities all over the US, including the University of Vermont. I used to think of the Act as an unqualifiedly Good Thing, but as with all settler history, the reality is more complex. As this article in the Burlington Free Press enumerates, the Act gave UVM the proceeds from the sale of 150,000 acres of Western real estate, much of it newly and violently taken from its native inhabitants.

Strafford was also home to William Sloane Coffin, a leader in the Civil Rights and peace movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and later the nuclear disarmament and gay rights movements. The church’s community room had a display made by Sunday school students about Coffin and making difficult social choices. Funny connection: Coffin planned a career as a concert pianist and studied piano at Yale. His first wife was Eva Rubinstein, a daughter of piano giant Arthur Rubinstein.

This concert originated in an invitation by Cameron Speth, a climate activist and member of the congregation. About 45 people attended. Pianist Annemieke McLane is the church’s music director, and I was delighted when she agreed to join me in the Eight Czech Duets of my late composition teacher Karel Husa.

The program

Annemieke and I rehearse the Husa

The audience, Annemieke in front. She cleans up good!

Annemieke lives in the adjoining town of Sharon, but we decided she could count as local to Strafford because of her role in the church. We threw the Husa together in one hot afternoon rehearsal. It went over well, but we look forward to a second chance when Play Every Town comes to Sharon—maybe I’ll post that performance.

Cameron has filled in Strafford

Scarlatti Sonata in G minor, K.8
(preceded by 8 ii-V-I’s)

Eve Beglarian, “Another Time”

Constant companion and audience member Stella takes a break

Annemieke arranges monthly concerts in the church, and it is the custom to leave a basket at the door for donations. Meanwhile, while I suggest in my written programs that attendees consider donating to various climate action organizations, I have not yet made any appeals from the bench during my concerts, though that’s something my team and I have considered. But because it was customary at the United Church, and because this was such an engaged and generous audience, we collected $381 for climate action. If that were to happen at each of these concerts, we’d eventually pull in close to $100,000. Maybe it’s time for me to incorporate a donations pitch into my concert spiel!

...about the piano

Yamaha J2007322 was manufactured in Jakarta in 2002. It was purchased for the church by English Professor Mike Manheim, Strafford resident and lover of the arts. A fund was established in Mike’s name after his passing in 2011 to support musical offerings at the church. His widow Martha, 97 at this writing, remains an active member of the church and its social justice mission.* The piano is a central feature of church life, often used in the monthly concerts oragnized by Annemieke as music director.

At just under 5 feet, the GA1 model is the smallest of Yamaha grands. The touch was heavier than most Yamahas, and the action was a little unpredictable. Annemieke was glad my assessment matched hers, as it can be hard to be objective about a piano one is very used to, and she may recommend that the church have the action regulated.

*Noting the unusual spelling of Manheim, I followed up and realized that the Manheim’s son Dan, also an English professor, was my colleague in my first full-time teaching position at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Small world!


Something I try to convey at all my concerts is that renouncing flying has not been a privation, but a boon. You can’t do everything, and if I were flying all over the world I would not be tramping all over Vermont. There is so much here, so much beauty, so much variety. Going from town to town can feel like traveling between worlds and even centuries.

Because our daughter had a dance performance the day after the Strafford concert in nearby Corinth, my wife and I set up a tent at our son’s college roommate Bryn’s place in Chelsea. Bryn is active in clean energy work and works with U.S. PIRG, as does his girlfriend R.J. R.J., it turns out, is named for Rachel Carson, while her St. Bernard Ralph is named for Ralph Nader.

Our campsite at Bryn’s house in Chelsea

Bryn, Ralph, R.J.

Ralph had fun with my (fortunately cheap non-prescription) sunglasses

Stella on Wright’s Mountain in Bradford

View from the summit

At the trailhead

Camping by Bryn’s pond, waking up to three (!) kingfishers battling for this prime territory in the pre-dawn, hiking nearby Wright’s is hard to see this as self-denial.

In this Twitter thread, climatologist Peter Kalmus describes how reducing his fossil fuel use made his life immediately richer and more enjoyable. Drastic changes are necessary, and one way or another they are inevitable. But if we do it right, they do not have to be miserable.

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last updated March 01, 2023