Not in every county

I wrote earlier about Gregory McCallum, and his project in North Carolina — bringing his piano to every county in the state, to play concerts, give master classes, and work with schools. Unfortunately, he had to curtail his plans, as he explained in an e-mail to me:

This project was to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the invention of the piano by a series of residencies in every county in North Carolina over a four-year period. To ensure that audiences would experience piano music at its best, I insured my Yamaha C7 grand with Lloyds of London and loaded it into a Ryder truck to take to each county. The residency’s goal was to bring people of diverse backgrounds together around the instrument we all play and love: the piano. My hope was that the experience would foster a greater appreciation for classical piano music.

“Bach to Boogie” launched the project in my current county of residence, Orange County. My piano was moved to East Chapel Hill High School by a group of volunteers, including some Harley-Davidson bikers. The concert featured diverse performers of all ages and backgrounds, and I acted as the host and musical “glue” that held the program together. I performed works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and Gershwin. In between my performances, guest pianists performed, including two young Asian students, a self-taught Hispanic boy who performed his own compositions, a high school student of mine, an African American gospel pianist, a jazz pianist, and fpur piano teachers in their golden years who perform two-piano eight-hand arrangements (and call themselves the “Fourmost”). Even more remarkable was the full-capacity audience that included people of all ages and backgrounds. Everyone came away with a greater appreciation for a style of music and playing that was different from their own. And how appropriate it was to see the Harley-Davidson couple snuggling during the Chopin nocturne!

But then came 9/11, and over the next few months, one by one Arts Councils and school presenters canceled their participation in this project due to the economic slump and budget cuts. Piano Connections [McCallum’s organization] was unable to raise sufficient funds to keep the project alive. And the stress of the year contibuted to my own health decline, and I had to have surgery for a severe sinus infection at the end of the concert season. Piano Connections was forced to go dormant in 2002 until better financial support could be found for the project.

Currently, I am fully recovered and will continue the project in some capacity in the fall when I pack up my piano again to join forces with pianist Barbara McKenzie of Wilmington for some two-piano performances in New Hanover, Robeson and Currituck counties. I must say the most gratifying experience has been playing for elementary school students and feeling the electricty in the room. I know that experience will stay with them for a lifetime and encourage them to be creative and open to deeper and richer life experiences. I will never forget their enthusiasm and appreciation.

It’s still a wonderful idea, obviously. I’m glad Greg contacted me, and I hope he gets his project fully back on track.

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