By Mary Spicer
Spot quiz: Where would Anthony Warner, a multi-lingual interpreter living in Trieste, Italy, specializing in international arms control treaty negotiations and inspections in Eastern and Western Europe, and John Holter, staff internist at an alcohol and drug abuse treatment center in Greenville, N.C., spend this coming Friday evening if a group of Allegheny College students hadn’t decided 40-something years ago to organize a summer day camp for kids in the Meadville area?
One thing is fairly certain. They probably wouldn’t be celebrating the joy of music by presenting “Gifts of Gratitude,” a concert of classical music beginning at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Meadville at the southern tip of Diamond Park.
The concert and the reception that will immediately follow is free and open to the public. Presented by families participating in the Creating Landscapes for Families program who meet for after-school programming, a community dinner and evening entertainment every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the school year at the church, the reception will feature local foods prepared and presented with a creative flair. Donations will benefit the Creating Landscapes for Families Scholarship Fund.
The seeds for this memorable evening were planted during the summer of 1972, when Warner, 9, was a student attending Second District Elementary School and Holter had just completed his freshman year at Allegheny. Holter had joined PEER, which he describes as “a student run summer day camp for 7-to-12 year olds referred by local teachers.”
The full story of connections established, going dormant and reinvigorated will be interwoven into Friday’s performance.
In a condensed version of the tale, Holter recalled that each day of the program, the camp counselors drove station wagons to collect and drop off the participating kids.
“Anthony Warner was one of my five 9-year-old boys,” Holter recalled. “That was the age I had started piano, and at 19, I considered myself a pretty serious classical piano student. So when the door to the side porch of Anthony’s house swung open to reveal an old upright piano, I noticed. When I asked him about it the next day, he said he wanted lessons, but his foster mother couldn’t afford them.”
Holter describes the 9-year-old Warner as “a kid ripe with an uncanny creativity, sensitivity, and desire to learn.”
At 10 a.m. each Saturday morning, they met on Warner’s side porch for piano lessons. The piano was, as Holter described it, “troubled.” Because the porch wasn’t heated, the young pianist practiced during the winter months wearing old gloves with open fingertips.
After taking Warner to concerts at Allegheny, in Erie and at the legendary amphitheater in Chautauqua, N.Y., “I left Allegheny College in 1975, losing myself in nine years of graduate studies — and losing contact with Anthony,” Holter recalled.
A whole new language...
Warner went on to attend junior and senior high in Meadville before graduating from Strong Vincent High School in Erie. He attended Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for three semesters as a pre-med student before moving to Washington, D.C., where he completed an internship before going to work at the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation.
When he traveled to Paris in 1985 on a foreign exchange program, everything changed. In 1987, Warner joined the U.S. Air Force, studying Russian and Italian at the Defense Language Institute in California. Eventually he would become fluent in French, German, Italian, Russian and American Sign Language. After continuing his military training in cryptology, he served as a Russian-speaking cryptologic linguist in Italy before being selected for a special duty assignment involving advanced interpreter training and then a 10-year assignment in Germany, which included studies at the University of Moscow and work in the American Embassy in Moscow. In 2001, after 15 years of active service, he moved to Italy, where he is the Russian-speaking arms control treaty compliance officer at Aviano Air Base.
Thirty-two years after they went their separate ways, the connection between student and mentor was re-established when Warner found a reference to Holter in a story about the summer music festival at Allegheny College. The annual festival was organized by Beth Etter, a classmate of Holter during their undergraduate days at Allegheny.
Connection with his long-ago mentor firmly re-established, Warner has become managing director and host of the international Holter Music Festival, which got its start following the demise of the Allegheny festival, was performed in Holter’s home in North Carolina for several years and has taken place in Italy for the past two years. In 2012, a total of 13 musicians, including Holter, Etter, and violinist Gayane Grigoryan, who will also perform Friday, performed concerts in four Italian cities.
Cellist and soprano Cristina Nadal has traveled from Trieste to be the fourth member of the ensemble.
The festival’s 2013 American tour began in Greenville’s Peace Presbyterian Church, where Holter has served as pianist for more than 20 years. From there, Holter, Nadal and her audio engineer, Paulo Carrer, will travel to Erie, Holter’s home town, where they’ll be joined by Etter and Grigoryan for a series of performances preceding Friday’s concert.
Etter returned to Meadville from her Italian tour eager to establish a Meadville connection. Knowing about Warner’s connection to Second District, she called long-time friend Jan Hyatt, founder of the Creating Landscapes program. Hyatt promptly put her in touch with Joyce Klasen, who heads Creating Landscapes for Families, which got its start at Second District.
“When we talked, I had goose-bumps for a day,” Klasen recalled. “They didn’t go away, because I felt the hope — and the inspiration — that can come out of this.”
“It just feels like a beautiful big circle of connection, which is precisely what goes on in chamber music,” Etter agreed. “It’s somebody’s turn to have a solo and everyone else’s role is to buoy them up and support it— and provide the most glorious atmosphere for them to shine. And then it gets passed around to the next member of the trio. It can’t be done without every member of the troupe — and that’s what we’re doing here.”
As Holter sees it, “Music glues us all together, over time, over continents and over our age differences. Anthony’s generosity grew out of his gratitude for the joy of music. The famous cellist, Palo Casals, expressed a similar insight when he said, ‘Perhaps it is music that will save the world.’”
You can go
Gifts of Gratitude, a chamber music concert featuring musicians from Italy, Armenia and the United States, is at 7 p.m. Friday in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Meadville, 346 Chestnut St., Meadville. A reception hosted by the Creating Landscapes for Families program will immediately follow in the church social hall. The concert and reception are free and open to the public. Donations, which will benefit the Creating Landscapes for Families Scholarship Fund, will be gratefully accepted.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.