Music appreciation: Local club offers lecture/performance series for classical-music lovers

  • —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Monica Jackuc Leverett will play her toy piano Oct. 12 at Northampton Senior Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • “We like to keep it diverse and try to appeal to a lot of interests,” says Madge Briggs, vice president of the Hampshire Music Club, at her home in Leeds. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • “We like to keep it diverse and try to appeal to a lot of interests,” says Madge Briggs, vice president of the Hampshire Music Club, at her home in Leeds.

For the Gazette
Published: 9/21/2016 3:24:38 PM

By LUIS FIELDMAN

At first glance, Monica Jakuc Leverett’s shiny, mahogany-red piano might seem designed for child’s play. After all, it is a toy, with just 37 keys (a full-sized piano has 88) and a length of 27 inches (full-size concert grand pianos are generally 9 feet long — nearly four-and-a-half times larger than Leverett’s piano).

But, that’s not to say the Albert Schoenhut 1872 model concert grand, which Leverett has nicknamed Spunky, isn’t real.

“[Spunky] tries with its whole heart and soul to give you every bit of expression you ask of it and its very moving,” said Leverett, a retired Smith College music professor who frequently performs in area concerts. “It’s like the little engine that could.”

Plus, she adds, it’s fun to play the toy piano.

“It’s a kind of freedom,” Leverett said. “It frees me from a lot of the professional expectations that the piano has for me.”

Spunky is joined by brother and sister pianos in a large room in Leverett’s Florence home that is dedicated to her piano collection. The toy piano, a Christmas gift last year “from Santa Claus” (read, herself), is the latest addition to a collection that includes three Viennese pianos of various sizes, ranging from 69 to 92 keys, as well as an 88-key electric piano.

For classical-music lovers

Leverett will perform on the toy piano Oct. 12 at the Northampton Senior Center for “Musical Potpourri V,” a classical music-appreciation series hosted by the Hampshire Music Club.

Hers will be just one of a broad range of musical presentations that will be held at the senior center every Wednesday morning from Sept. 28 through Oct. 26.

“We like to keep it diverse and try to appeal to a lot of interests,” said Madge Briggs, vice president of the music club.

According to organizers, the club was founded by a small group of friends who wanted to offer a combination of entertainment and education by musical professionals in a series format. The nonprofit organization’s mission is “to sponsor and promote music appreciation classes for adults in the local counties.”

The format of the club’s music-appreciation presentations is generally one-third lecture and two-thirds performance. They take place in a large room, without a stage, so the audience can be close to presenters, Briggs says, which encourages participation, not just observation, from the audience as they discuss and learn about the different composers and their selected works.

The series, Briggs adds, attracts music lovers who are “looking to expand their knowledge and keep their minds active and thinking.”

Contributions by women

In addition to playing her toy piano on Oct. 12, Leverett will focus on the history of women composers.

Throughout the course of classic music history, women composers’ contributions have not been as widely recognized as their male counterparts, Leverett says, and their opportunities to perform were even scarcer.

“It was not considered the proper thing to do at one time for women to compose and perform music,” she said.

Women were traditionally encouraged to marry and have children, she added, rather than pursue a career in music — or anything else, for that matter. Certainly, they were discouraged from pursuing a musical career composing orchestral or symphonic music.

In spite of those restrictions, she added, some women who had the means, did compose music.

“There’s great music by women that [often] hasn’t been heard,” she said.

Amy Beach, for example, one of the composers Leverett will discuss in her lecture, challenged the social standards of the 19th century by composing elegant pieces of orchestral music. But Beach, who belonged to the upper class of Boston society was restricted by her husband to playing two performances a year. Even that was pushing the boundaries of social acceptability, Leverett says.

Even today, Leverett noted, there’s still room for improvement when it comes to giving credit to, and recognizing the accomplishments of, women composers of the past.

“Women composers are now being played more and recognized more, although they are still not the equal in people’s minds to men,” she said. “You could get ahead as a women but you had to be better, you had to be overqualified.”

At the Oct. 12 presentation, Leverett will premiere a composition, “A Week In the Life of a Toy Piano,” written specifically for the toy piano by a woman who grew up right next door to Leverett.

Kaeza Fearn, who teaches piano at the Winchester Community Music School, just north of Boston, will be at the lecture for the song’s debut and to talk to the audience about the toy piano and the song she wrote.

Leverett says the instrument itself is the inspiration of the piece, and she hopes she can communicate the joy and excitement of the toy piano to her audience at the senior center.

“I fell in love with [the toy piano] instantly when I was first exposed to it,” she said. “And I think [Kaeza] really captured the fun of it.”


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