A Personal History in Music

Organist

My career as an organist began at the age of 13, playing for a little church in the countryside of Dutchess County where I grew up.  I went on to major in sacred music with a focus on the organ at DePauw University and Yale Institute of Sacred Music/Union.  I worked as an organist in a little church in Danville, IN, for four years while I was a student.  In 1965, I was a finalist in The National Organ Playing Competition in Ft. Wayne, IN.

I continued my career in New York City, serving as an organist and music director for several churches in Manhattan: St. Bartholomew’s, Church of St. Luke in the Fields, Immanuel Lutheran and Church of our Saviour.  I gave recitals at St. Bartholomew’s, Trinity Church Wall Street, St. Thomas’ Church, St. Peter’s at the Citicorp Center, St. Thomas’ Church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and many other churches in NYC and beyond.

West Village Chorale

My experience working with church choirs over the years eventually led to my founding the West Village Chorale (1971), a community chorus in Greenwich Village when I was assistant organist at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields and a teacher in St. Luke’s School.

I discovered that I really loved conducting great choral works such as Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s Cantatas, and wonderful 20th century works like Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” as well as premieres of works by a number of American composers I came to know in New York.

I began to hire orchestral musicians to accompany the WVC, many of whom were members of the newly formed Orchestra of St. Luke’s.  I found that I really loved conducting orchestra as well!

I always worked as a musician in some way or another, but have undertaken other endeavors to support my career with income.  My husband Ed Grossman and I have an IT staffing company, JSL Computer Services, that we founded together in 1978 in the Wall St. area and moved to Hudson. NY, in 2001.  I also spent a number of years working as a real estate broker, founding my own company in 1985.  When the market crashed in 1987, the phone stopped ringing and Ed said to me “I think you should find a way to do more conducting!”  I had just conducted Britten’s “St. Nicolas Cantata,” with Ed participating as a tenor, and we were both blown away by the experience.

Columbia Festival Orchestra

The following spring, I founded the Columbia Festival Orchestra (CFO).  We gave our first full orchestra concert in 1989 at the Hudson Middle School, with the enthusiastic support of then Principal, Marilyn Barry.

Over the next 15 years CFO presented chamber and orchestra concerts in many different venues in the Columbia/Berkshire region and NYC including: PS21 (Performance Spaces for the 21st Century), The Shaker Museum & Library, The Hudson Opera House, The Spencertown Academy, Taconic Hills Performing Arts Center, North Pointe, St. James in Chatham, Christ Church Episcopal and First Presbyterian in Hudson, and area schools, as well as Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood and Merkin Hall in New York City.

From 1995-2003, the Columbia Festival Orchestra presented an annual Independence Day weekend Salute to America concert at the Shaker Museum and Library in Old Chatham.

I have to say this was my favorite time.  I love performing the towering works of American composers, like Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, David Amram’s Thomas Jefferson: A Little Rebellion, and Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom.  Every Salute to America Concert featured the Columbia Festival Chorale, a community chorus of local singers.  It was a joyous time.  Our audience of 700 or more enjoyed picnics on the lawn and children joined in the Teddy Bear’s Picnic Parade, an anticipated annual component of the event.

It is very difficult to sustain programming like this, and it became more and more difficult to raise the money.  I heartily thank all those who served as board members and those who supported us with contributions for all of those years!

The CFO’s (first) “swan song” concert took place in the fall of 2003 at St. James in Chatham and featured internationally known violinist Ani Kavafian and her student Conrad Chow performing Bach’s Double Concerto and Arvo Paert’s Tabula Rasa.  Nearly 400 people attended!

Diamond Opera Theater

From 2004-2007, I was founding co-artistic director of Hudson Chamber Opera (HCO)…aka Hudson Opera Theater (HOT)…now called Diamond Opera Theater (DOT), which is currently resident at the Hudson Opera House.

We engaged dynamic Director (and Tenor) Dean Anthony, and produced two fully staged operas at the Basilica: Menotti’s The Medium, starring Mary Deyerle Hack in the title role, and Mollicone’s Face on the Barroom Floor, with Nancy Allen Lundy, soprano.  Another memorable moment was mezzo-soprano Nina Fine’s exquisite performance of I Remember (based on the Diary of Anne Frank with libretto by Enid Futterman) at the Hudson Opera House.

CFO rises again

In 2007 the CFO had the opportunity to rise again! Judy Grunberg had established PS21 (Performance Spaces for the 21st Century), the unique outdoor venue in Chatham, and she was eager to celebrate the 50th anniversary of West Side Story, a favorite of hers (and mine!), so the Columbia Festival Orchestra rose to the occasion.  With five professional singers and a 57-piece orchestra, CFO presented excerpts from West Side Story and Candide, with notable performances by Amanda Boyd (Glitter and be Gay) and Mary Hack (I am Easily Assimilated).

Exhilarated by this rebirth, I raised the money to present another concert at PS21 in 2008, and at the same time establish a student mentoring program called Take a Seat…in the Orchestra!.  We had 18 area students performing with the 35 professionals of the CFO in the world premiere of David Grunberg’s Overture to a New Theater.  Other works on the program were Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, featuring Chanel Wood, soprano from the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and Prokofiev’s First Symphony.

That was it for the CFO, although I have continued the Take a Seat mentoring program to the present, whenever the opportunity arises.

After mulling things over for a year or so, I thought it might be more doable to present a chamber series featuring many of the wonderful CFO players and soloists, as well as the chamber ensembles with which they are affiliated.

At the same time, Club Helsinki was finishing up the transformation of an old buggy factory into a nightclub.  Looking for a new approach to classical concerts, I was suddenly taken with the idea of “classical in a club.”

ClaverackLanding

In 2010, ClaverackLanding, was born, presenting six concerts at Club Helsinki.  We subsequently added the tag line “great music in great spaces” and expanded into some of the spectacular buildings in Hudson, including the historic First Presbyterian Church and the Armory.

In the subsequent 3 years, we presented everything from Tango to Renaissance Band, from Gypsy music to an opera for 4 women’s voices, Tibetan Singing Bowls, and Percussion.  We collaborated with the Bard College Conservatory of music (Bard at the Landing) in presenting string quartets and the Concordium wind ensemble.  We were thrilled to present the young Amphion Quartet, subsequently resident at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two program.

We presented such established luminaries as Joshua Rifkin (who was central to the revival of Ragtime in the 1970s through his recordings), Simone Dinnerstein (internationally known pianist) performing with singer/songwriter Tift Merritt in a sneak preview of their CD Night, award-winning violinist Elmar Oliveira filling the halls of the empty Armory (except for our enthusiastic audience and one bat) with virtuosic strains, the lilting duo of Paula Robison and Frederic Hand (flute/guitar) in the cavernous acoustics of Christ Church Episcopal, and we savored the collaboration of two old friends from Hollywood, who have landed here in Columbia County, Arnold Steinhardt (violinist of the Guarneri Quartet) and Lincoln Mayorga (who began his diverse career as a staff pianist for Disney).  They have many stories to tell and much music to make together.

Most of these wonderful musicians interacted with local students in our Take a Seat mentoring program in one way or another.

Annual Messiah Sing

In addition, for many years I have conducted an Annual Messiah Sing, in which the audience renders its version of this masterpiece!  Students Take a Seat with the ensemble’s professionals in this popular holiday tradition.  I am delighted that the Messiah Sing will continue as a part of the Classics on Hudson series, taking place at the First Presbyterian Church (4th & Warren) until the upstairs is renovated in the Hudson Opera House.

Columbia Festival Ragtime Band

In the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity to bring together some of the members of the CFO in The Columbia Festival Ragtime Band, which presented a “Celebrate America” concert under a tent at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. If I could, I would take that band on the road!

Last concert of ClaverackLanding

The world premiere of Sheila Silver’s “Beauty Intolerable” a songbook based on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay ended our season and 25 years of producing concerts in Columbia County for me.   Sheila is an extraordinary composer and a good friend, with a wonderful sensitivity to the poetry of Millay.  It was a fitting ending and beginning at the same time for me.

New Life for the Old Non-Profit

I’m pleased to say that the non-profit that has morphed from Columbia Festival Orchestra and Chorale to ClaverackLanding will have new life as Classics on Hudson and new leadership with Helena Baillie, violinist, as Artistic Director.  In the transition, we will co-direct the new entity for the 2014-15 Season, and then Helena will be on her own!

Reflections

It’s hard to say what kind of music I like best.  Bach is so intensely beautiful and demanding to play.  Bernstein is alternately exhilarating and wrenchingly poignant. And ragtime and tangos propel us into motion until the music stops.  I love it all.

In the past 25 years, I was honored to present premieres by composers William Perry, Peter Schickele, Nancy Laird Chance, David Grunberg, Lincoln Mayorga, Jonathan Talbot, and Sheila Silver.

 What now?

I am ready to write poetry for a while instead of grant proposals!  I have been writing poetry now since 2006, self-publishing one book, Luminations, and a contributor to a collection, Java Wednesdays, by my Albany writing group The Java Poets Collective.  I have had a few poems published in other places such as Chronogram Magazine and Our Berkshire Times.

What else? I had the wonderful opportunity to play the organ again as part of the Town of Claverack’s 225th Anniversary celebration.  A little Bach every day going forward would be good.  It has been wonderful to present other ensembles on the ClaverackLanding series, but I miss my participation as a conductor and performer.

Maybe there will be other opportunities in the future.

In the meantime…I hope to get my kayak out of dry dock on my lawn.

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