Meadville Tribune

March 26, 2014

Gifts of Gratitude offers gift of chamber music

By Mary Spicer
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Imagine a lunchtime conversation between long-time friends — communicating like crazy, catching up on their lives and the lives of others, bringing in slices of all sorts of unrelated topics and changing direction faster than the speed of light. Now imagine that conversation taking place without words.

“That’s the way chamber music works,” said Meadville resident Beth Etter, a member of the chamber music ensemble that will make its second Meadville appearance in as many years on April 4.

“The conversation begins, evolves and changes,” Etter continued. “Sometimes it suffers conflict of some sort. Sometimes tension from the conflict lasts. You start to wonder, ‘Are we going to fix this? Are we going to move out of the conflict and into something that feels like we’re back home again?’ That’s exactly what goes on. It’s incredible communication without words.”

For the second annual “Gifts of Gratitude” concert, the ensemble will consist of two musicians on piano and one each on violin, cello and clarinet.

However, Etter continued, the definition of chamber music is between two and 20 players — without conductors.

Conductors are not allowed because, like the long-time friends at lunch, the players pass the music to one another.

For members of a chamber ensemble, “you don’t just listen,” Etter explained. “You watch. You’ve got all your senses attuned to what the other players are doing. When it works like it’s supposed to, everybody gets fired up about what everybody else is doing. In rehearsal — or in performance — sometimes somebody will inject some nuance or passion that comes to light in an unexpected way. You, as part of the conversation, are inspired by that, so you give it back. It builds.”

The conversation begins at 7:30 p.m. in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Meadville at the south end of Diamond Park in downtown Meadville.

The concert is sponsored by Creating Landscapes for Families, a twice-weekly after-school program combining tutoring, creative and recreational activities, dinner and after-dinner entertainment for participating students and their families from the Second District Elementary School attendance area, and the UU church, which hosts the program on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the school year. The concert is free and open to the public and will be followed immediately by the second annual gala reception, which is also free and open to the public. Donations, which will be shared by both sponsoring organizations as they partner to provide growing opportunities for local families, are greatly appreciated, according to organizers.

Between friends

The origin of the upcoming concert dates back to 1972, when Allegheny College student John Holter, an Erie native, spent the summer after his freshman year with PEER, which he described as “a student run summer day camp for 7-to-12 year olds referred by local teachers.” Nine-year-old Anthony Warner, a student at Second District Elementary School, attended the camp; Holter, a gifted pianist who would go on to become a medical doctor, was his counselor.

Long story slightly shorter, the responsibilities of a camp counselor involved picking up and dropping off his young charges in a station wagon. When the door to the side porch of Warner’s house swung open one day to reveal an old upright piano, it caught Holter’s eye. Asking about it the next day, Holter learned that the young man wanted lessons but his foster mother couldn’t afford them.

Recognizing what he described as “an uncanny creativity, sensitivity and desire to learn,” Holter spent the next three years walking from the Allegheny College campus to the south end of Meadville every Saturday morning to conduct a piano lesson on the unheated side porch.

Years passed. Holter became a physician practicing in North Carolina. Warner, having joined the U.S. Air Force, becoming fluent in French, German, Italian, Russian and American Sign Language and receiving military training in cryptology, became the Russian-speaking arms control treaty compliance officer at Aviano Air Base in Italy. Unfortunately, official obligations will keep Warner in Italy during this year’s performance.

Thirty-two years after going their separate ways, the young student and his mentor were reunited. Bond firmly re-established, Warner has become managing director and host of the international Holter Music Festival, which has taken place in Italy for the past three years. Etter, a classmate of Holter during their undergraduate days at Allegheny and regular performer at the Holter festival, returned to Meadville from her first Italian tour and established a connection with the Creating Landscapes for Families program, which got its start at Second District.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“We had a blast playing,” Etter said of the 2013 Gifts of Gratitude concert in Meadville. “I’m excited.”

Ditto for the Second District students who attended the concert last year and had an opportunity to both experience music they’d never heard before and meet Warner, an extremely proud graduate of their school whose visit took on nothing less than rock-star proportions.

In addition to Holter and Etter on piano, the 2014 ensemble includes Gayane Grigoryan on violin, Robin Hasenpflug on cello and special guest performers.

You can go

Creating Landscapes for Families and Unitarian Universalist Church of Meadville present Gifts of Gratitude, an evening of music performed by an international chamber music ensemble on April 4 at 7:30 p.m. The concert in the church sanctuary, 346 Chestnut St., Meadville, is followed by a gala reception; both concert and reception are free and open to the public. Donations are accepted.