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The Hudson Valley Piano Club
by John Lampkin

Sarah Chauncey, who is a student of Victoria Persione, recently formed an organization which deserves our support. The Hudson Valley Piano Club is comprised of four adult piano students who meet bimonthly to meet, perform for each other, and discuss musical topics. This concept has a long and glorious history, as stated in the home page of their website:

"Musicians performed in private settings throughout the Baroque and Classical eras. The practice reached its apex in the Romantic period, especially in the Parisian salons of the mid-19th century. Composers such as Chopin and Liszt gave frequent concerts in their parlors. Mozart and Beethoven played in the intimate and lavish surroundings of their patrons and music lovers homes. About 100 years ago...seven female pianists, determined to practise their art, formed the Ladies Musical Club in February 1898. By April, they were calling themselves the Presto Piano Club. The membership fee was five cents. Hoping to share its musical talent with others, the club sponsored its first public concert at the City Hall on March 28, 1901, with tenor Adam Dockray from Toronto."

The club has another goal, to hold a series of Salons each year to support talented local musicians in the Hudson Valley. I was honored to give the inaugural concert in July at the lovely home of one of the members in a concert billed as "An Evening of Music and Humor with John Lampkin." It was wonderful to perform in such an intimate setting with the audience literally a few feet away. Some were first-time concert-goers who might otherwise never attend a concert of "serious" music, if you can call my "Air for Jock Strap" serious!

David Yaslowitz will be the next, performing an all-Chopin program. David was one of my students who is now going for his doctorate, and is a recipient of the George Bryant Scholarship for organ study.

The idea of Salons is hardly new. Indeed, that is how the concept of a formal piano recital got started. Coincidentally, through the power of the net, Sarah found someone else who has started a similar club in Texas called simply, "Salon." From their website:

"The original SALON ideas & concept came while reading a rather polemical book called Who Killed Classical Music? (a big tirade by Norman Lebrecht). I thought about how many people I know who had never heard live classical music, nor even would realize that this experience is available to them. I became curious to discover whether classical music has economic value to people outside the traditional (and largely shrinking) concert-hall and stage production audiences. I wanted to see whether in my own little microcosm an audience could be developed for classical music. The concept was subsequently influenced by the discovery that relatively few modern living rooms are set up for anything but television. I hope that SALON will influence people to buy pianos and start working live classical music and conversation-oriented parties into their lifestyles. I want to see how much television can be evicted from is place as sole or primary focal point of living rooms and human attention.

A hundred years ago, the focal point of the living room was a piano like the one I have in mine, and families gathered around them all the time to sing pop songs and hymns and so forth. Piano (& live music generally) was THE entertainment center in the home for generations - even after phonographs and radios were invented. There's no reason to chuck all technology and return to that state. There's good reason, however, to build human community and contact. Media doesn't do that. Music can, especially live music in small venues. I think events in any home have a special character and personality that would never be available in a public venue. I speculate that the attendance level would be lower if people did not view their RSVP as a personal commitment to hosts in their homes. It creates less expense and logistical complexity than renting and publicizing a venue. It is more repeatable. That is important to the overall vision.

The economic-value test of SALON has been well borne out by charging nothing but requesting donations. People respond with money, very reliably, if the music was good. The music doesn't have to be especially perfect or brilliant - this is not a snob audience. If they can tell you have talent and worked hard to prepare the program, and if they enjoyed the evening as a whole, the tips reflect that. Any attempt to assign a per-head price limits the value of the event to the amount demanded, and limits people's ability to come & be a part of the regular community.

SALON needs a regular audience of fans who bring friends, spread the word, come time after time, and form a backbone of community support regardless of how much change they have in their pockets this week. I don't want people to worry about bringing their friends or whether they have enough cash or if they're jobless and don't have money this month. This approach has generated reliable and generous financial gifts to our musicians, and if we can throw a SALON without calling an accountant then more can be thrown.

SALON-goers have stated an interest in growing into broad supporters of the arts - particularly in attending benefits and funding scholarships for musicians. They will also go to other concerts and recitals if they know about them. SALON exists to provide a catalyst of education about the music, contact with the music, and awareness of local events. I think it has helped build a little community around those opportunities.
I also hope SALON will influence people to give their kids opportunities to listen to and like classical music, and have them taught to play piano and other instruments, and that a few adults may realize some of their latent dreams of studying an instrument themselves."

The Hudson Valley Piano Club deserves our applause and our support. Please make your adult students aware of this wonderful fledgling group, and if you are an artist who would like to be featured, please contact Sarah Chauncey at 845 627-3621 or visit www.pianoclub.org. The address for SALON is musicsalon.homestead.com

©2003 John Lampkin

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