Last night marked the restoration of a piano and of a musical tradition. Several years ago, baritone Mark Pedrotti and his partner Bob Dann offered to house an 80-year-old grand piano which had once been used by Eugene Ormandy at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Eventually, they bought it and had it refurbished. Last night, they invited their friends to a concert in their historic home in downtown Toronto to celebrate the renewal of the instrument. Thirty-five people gathered in their large and gracious living room for what was effectively a musical salon. And what a splendid evening it was.
Retired political scientist Joe Wearing played four short pieces by Scriabin. Medical doctor Mario Ostrowski played a Chopin Nocturne. Accompanied by pianist Lawrence Pitchko, Mark sang several Mahler songs of love, passion and separation from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.” The musicians played and sang with such verve and sensitivity that everyone present was enchanted. And, of course, the piano resonated with the most beautiful of sounds.
There is something magical about a musical event held in a home. Wonderful music played and sung by talented musicians willing to share with their friends creates an ambiance which is totally engaging. The melodies soothe and delight. The outdoor natural light streaming through the windows casts a warm glow. Maybe it is the immediacy of the situation, the residual memories of family times past around a piano. Or maybe it is the harkening back to earlier eras when making music, and sharing music, was the entertainment of the day.
I don’t know whether musical salons in times past were accompanied by food and drink. This particular musical program, however, occurred after appetizers and before dinner in the garden. Mark is a marvellous cook and Bob loves to entertain, so good food and lavish drink were definitely part of the repertoire. Needless to say, after such an evening, everyone present was keen for another.
It’s funny. Music has never been more accessible than it is today. It seems that everyone of a certain age on public transit is sporting buds in their ears. Radio, iPods, iTunes, music streaming, CDs, DVDs, music videos, YouTube, airplane entertainment programs and all manner of constantly-evolving technology bring the world’s best music of all genres to the masses at the press of a button, or the flick of a switch. Raves are notorious. Famous folk artists, rock stars, crooners attract thousands to their concerts. Culture vultures flock to the symphony, concert halls, theatres, church venues, the opera and even opera shown at the movie theatres.
Yet it strikes me that making music and sharing it with friends occurs rarely. I know many skilled musicians and wonderful singers, but have seldom heard them play or sing. They may participate in a concert, sing in a choir, or play professional gigs of various sorts, and invite their friends to attend. But playing or singing informally with friends or family or, even more formally, as in a musical salon, is rare. Is this modesty? Or a fear of standing out in the crowd? Or of imposing on others? Or are musicians, by nature, perfectionists for whom making music that may not be up to their normal standards is too painful? Or maybe it is my fault, because I have not asked them to play or invited them to sing. Maybe I, like many others, have found it easier to buy tickets and access music commercially than to put in the effort to organize a songfest that I love or a salon like that we enjoyed last night. Whatever the reason, it is our loss.
The ability to make music requires a special talent and reflects years of hard work, discipline and training. Sharing music is a great gift and a wonderful contribution to community. Music lifts the spirit and nourishes the soul. Thank you, Mark and Bob, for showing the way. May your piano continue to age well, may musical salons flourish, and communal music-making continue.
By coincidence, this very morning, my Australian cousin sent this Queensland Symphony Orchestra YouTube video of 21st century community music making, down under. Maybe you will enjoy it as much as I did.