One might argue there were fewer distractions for kids and their families in the 1950s, still the Ten then for the next two years the Twelve Piano Festival was a major undertaking, involving cooperation among the piano teachers, Hullender’s Music, parents, and piano students ranging in age from 6 through highschool. For one thing it required matching of skills for each of the numbers, selection and dedication of a musical director. . . PLUS Weeks of Practice on Sunday Afternoons.
None of my resources has been able to pin down the exact years, but I have narrowed it to somewhere between 1952 and 1955. Somewhere in the archives of the Frederick Leader Press, I suspect there are articles and pictures…and if I were not a cheapskate I would pay the fee and find out. Alas, I am…hey, I am a senior citizen on a fixed income with investments that are bouncing all over the place.
I digrest…back to the Twelve Piano Festival.
I know it was BIG STUFF, because events like this promoted a little known fact, Frederick was the Cultural Center of Tillman County. The community was built on an agricultural economic base, but many of these farmers and their wives were college educated. In addition to that like many in our parents’ generation, their aspirations for their children exceeded what they themselves had accomplished. This included piano lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, and even elocution lessons, because back before all we know about right and left brain differences, parents still encouraged sports, academics, and arts.
So whenever it happened, whoever thought of it first, however they got a room full of squirmy kids to practice together, for three years in the 1950s the Piano Festival happened.
Twenty four young piano students in each set, some only 1st or 2nd graders, dressed in formals and suits with ties, entering the stage, taking seats two to a piano bench, looking up to the director, poised to play.
Thirteen nervous, proud piano teachers in the wings knowing that after weeks of Sunday afternoon practices at Hullender’s music store, this was it, a recipe for disaster or triumph in the making.
My Grandmother Bryant took me to the performances, probably to remind me that I was breaking the chain of pianists in my family. I could have, should have been on stage not in the bleachers watching. After all my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all played. We even had an upright piano in our home, which my mother played when she needed to reduce the stress of raising four children on very limited income. Alas, this lass abandoned lessons after completing Book II. I preferred reading, writing, dreaming and running wild around the neighborhood to practicing piano. Truth, I preferred washing dishes even silverware to practicing piano.
However, I loved to listen to others play, imagining myself doing it, just not enough to actually practice.
Besides it was a big fancy grownup event. I got to dress up like I was going to church and it wasn’t even Sunday.
BUT my dressed up was nothing compared to the performers. I was most impressed with the groups with my classmates. There they were, entering wearing formal gowns, suits and ties, looking so elegant and grown-up!
I was mesmerized. I had to have been, because I still remember those pianos on the floor of the gymnasium, the tapping of the director’s baton, and the SOUND.
The program was divided into proficiency levels with the finale played by the piano teachers. From my sources, Lance Bohannon, Kay George Ivy (my sister in law) and Jeanne Meaders Wilson, who all participated in one or more of these events, I have a partial list of some of the piano teachers, Mrs. Bohannon, Miss Frances Burkhart, Miss Geist, Miss Flossie Plott, and Miss Carol Perry, but there were evidently thirteen private teachers in a community of around 5,500 people.
A partial list of my classmates who participated includes, Lance, Judy Graham, Jim Faulconer, Linda Loutherback, Patricia Lawson, and Jeanne Meaders. My sister in law Kay was about three years younger.
Exerpts from my email and message exchanges with my informers….I mean sources..included these quotes:
“I think I remember three years, starting with a “Ten Piano
Festival” the first year and expanding to a “Twelve Piano Festival” the next
two. The Festival culminated with all the piano teachers (I think there
were 13 private teachers in Frederick at the time, including my mother)
playing a “Finale”, the first year conducted by David Gish, and the next two
years, conducted by Ron Wheeler . We’d practice on Sunday afternoons at Hullender’s Music
Store. In my mind, it was a big, dressed-up event, and I always looked
forward to it.” Lance Bohannon, Email dated August 23, 2015
“One year Susie and I had matching red formals that Mother made. We KNEW we were beautiful! Hullender’s Music Store loaned the pianos and took care of moving them.
I think the grand finale was all the teachers playing together. I used to walk from Central grade school to Francis Burkheart’s house for lessons in her downstairs basement. She would come down from her lunch smelling like whatever she had just eaten. (Not always a great memory.) Francis also played the organ at First Baptist and would have her students play for Dean Burg every year for adjudication. That was quite challenging.” Jeanne Meaders Wilson, Facebook Messenger
“Miss Geist was my first teacher, and later Carol Perry. The 12 Piano Festival was just that, and the students were all playing the same duet all at the same time. So there had to be a lot of practicing to make sure we all played together correctly. It was formal attire and a very big exciting program for us students.” Kay George Ivy, Facebook Messenger
Sometimes it strikes me as odd the events that stand out in my mind from my childhood. But if I close my eyes, I can still see those twelve grand or maybe baby grand pianos on the floor of Frederick High School gymnasium, feel my Grandmother Bryant take my hand as the lights lowered, and the festival began.
I suppose given my age that most or all of these teachers have passed on to a better place, so saying thank you to them comes a little late…as does my thank you to my grandmother for exposing me to music even though I never played…I did learn to appreciate those who do…