Piano Monster Concert
Snow Pond Center for the Arts, Sidney
Mar. 3, 2018
by Christopher Hyde
What music critic could pass up something called The Piano Monster Concert? Shades of Creole pianist Louis Moreau Gottshalk, who once assembled 64 grand pianos for a play-along in South America. That my grandson, Jordan Seavey, took part in the event is merely coincidental.
The concert was the brainchild of the Maine Music Teachers Association, Christine KIssack of Falmouth and Ginger Yang Hwalek of Bangor. Hwalek conducted the ensemble late Saturday afternoon, in the jam-packed Alumni Hall of the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney. Kissack was in charge of the mind-boggling logistics.
There were 98 performers, 12 pianos —two concert grands and 10 spinet-sized consoles- -and 15 teachers, including Hwalek and Kissack. The teachers sometimes performed alongside their students, and sometimes just turned pages. I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but the piano players ranged in age from early grade-school to adult, with the majority skewed toward youth.
All of them were good—due to advances in pedagogy most Juilliard graduates have better technique than Liszt or Paderewski—and more surprising, watched the conductor closely for tempo and volume instructions. The unity was remarkable, even in the first two numbers, “Tamborine,” and “Magical March,” by Margaret Goldston, played by the youngest pianists.
The numbers of musicians in each piece varied from about a dozen to a maximum of 26, sometimes sitting three to a bench for piano-six-hands performance, as in “Bob’s Blues,” which Seavey has been practicing on our piano.
Recitals can be excruciating, especially those involving stringed instruments. This one, which lasted about an hour, was entertaining throughout, with well-selected pieces that showed off what could be done with the combination of pianos and electronic keyboards. The latter provided some real sostenuto in “Romantic Interlude,” by Beatrice Miller, and added to the authenticity of works in the Blues, Ragtime, country fiddling and and big-band styles. “Brightwood Barn,” by Robert D. Vandall, which ended the program, was a real barn burner to the tune of “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailer?”
The classics were not neglected, with some nice up-tempo selections from Beethoven’s “Six Country Dances,” an arrangement of the overture to “Carmen,” a well-known Gigue by Corelli and the first movement of the Mozart Sonata in D Major, K.381. The latter involved a serious attempt to bring out the often unheard voices. Mozart, who wrote for clockwork organs, would have had fun with a keyboard.
I am in awe of the effort and logistics involved in putting The Piano Monster Concert together—just getting all the performers on stage at the right time was a feat in itself. To have transformed it into an enjoyable musical event is extraordinary.