I am not a musician. I don’t even read music, let alone perform. And don’t ask me to sing.
But I do enjoy and appreciate good live music of all kinds, especially music that brings peace and joy. The venue usually doesn’t matter much. Classical in concert halls or converted barns. Classic rock from bandstands or stadiums. Solo performers on sidewalks. Choruses in churches. They all touch my soul.
On Saturday, though, we had the opportunity to pack two very different outdoor concerts at contrasting venues into a single afternoon. In one, combined bell choirs performed at a regional fair. In the other, a string quartet played Mendelssohn and Haydn at the home of a 20th century composer whose genius provided the encore.
Can you guess which worked and which didn’t?
Ringing at a country fair
The Bethlehem Fair has been part of Connecticut’s regional agricultural scene for nearly a century. It offers the usual assortment of attractions: Competitions for best farm animals and produce. Baking and wood-chopping contests. Midway rides. Fair food (and some good grub too). Talent shows and highlighted performers.
An anomaly in all this brouhaha is the annual concert by the Chime In! and Connecticut Handbell Ringers bell choirs. Chime In! Director of Music Rick Wood and his wife Sandy are longtime Bethlehem residents. The group’s roots are in bell choirs the Woods started years ago at the First Church of Bethlehem. So as a community thing, bell-ringing at the Bethlehem Fair is by now a tradition.
We are Chime In! groupies. From that, we can tell you that handbells sound much better in a quiet church than at a fair. We enjoy the peaceful evenings in the First Church sanctuary during the annual Bethlehem Christmastown Festival. The Bethlehem Fair, though, we do mostly for a day in the country.
The Main Stage is at the center of the fairgrounds, near the main entrance and administrative building. It’s also adjacent to the ring for oxen and horse pulling ring, the P.A. system, and other distractions. We still remember the time Rick had to stop the concert for about five minutes to let the tractor parade go by.
This time the stage was already set up for a talent show. The bell choirs performed at ground level in front of the stage, with a weaker sound system. At best, it sounded like this:
But more often, it was like this:
No matter. We’ll catch them at the Christmas festival or one of the other concerts this fall.
Still, it would be interesting to see how they fare at the Big E, New England’s interstate exposition.
STRINGS at a composer’s home
I’ve posted about mid-century modern composer Leroy Anderson and his appropriately mid-century modern home, the Leroy Anderson House, before. The home in Woodbury, Connecticut, is still owned by the composer’s family foundation. It is open on select weekends as a museum of his life and legacy.
Several times a year, the home hosts concerts as part of a series. Usually these are outdoors on the lawn, but some more intimate performances have been in the living room around the composer’s piano. You can learn about these concerts here.
In May the Imperial Brass from New Jersey offered a concert of works by Anderson and his contemporaries. It was a bright, brassy, toe-tapping afternoon.
Saturday’s performance by the Westfarms Quartet was originally scheduled for June. The Connecticut-based quartet features regulars Mike Winer, violin, and Dylan Lomangino, viola. On Saturday, they were joined by Selah Kwak on violin and Kaila Piscitelli on cello.
In contrast to the fair, the house is in a quiet residential neighborhood perfect for an afternoon concert. Still, any outdoor concert is subject to the occasional interruptions of daily life. Just before the start, sirens wailed on a nearby road. When the audience learned that the performers were awaiting delivery of a pair of glasses, someone the audience cracked back: “Apparently under police escort!”
Things soon quieted down and the quartet was accompanied only by the birds and crickets of the surrounding woods. Acoustics were fine for the nuanced performance of Mendelssohn’s Quartet No. 2 in A Minor Op. 13 and Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet No. 63 in Bb Major, Op. 76, No. 4.
The quartet performed Anderson’s “Blue Tango” as an encore, much as the Boston Pops would with the composer’s works at the end of a concert. “Blue Tango,” Anderson’s first big hit, sounds quite different when played by a string quartet but still delighted the audience.
Afterward, a newcomer to the concert series described the afternoon as “a little bit of Tanglewood“–which is exactly what it was meant to be.
Tanglewoodbury. It sort of has a ring to it, doesn’t it?