PianoTaos sets Fall Arts theme to music

By Laura Bulkin
Posted 9/25/19

The Taos Fall Arts Festival is known to be a feast for the eyes. In recent years, thanks to a dedicated group of pianists, it has had a musical dimension as well.On Sunday (Sept. 29), …

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PianoTaos sets Fall Arts theme to music


The Taos Fall Arts Festival is known to be a feast for the eyes. In recent years, thanks to a dedicated group of pianists, it has had a musical dimension as well.

On Sunday (Sept. 29), at 1 p.m., PianoTaos will present a concert inspired by the theme of the 2019 Fall Arts: "Of Heaven and Earth/Del Cielo y de la Tierra." The free performance will be given at the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, 227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

The hourlong program will feature piano music composed by Charles Ives, Olivier Messiaen, William Grant Still and Keyna Wilkins, along with improvisations and original compositions by PianoTaos members. Participating pianists will be Susannah Ambler, Claire Detels, Vickie Ford, Martha Grossman, Martha Shepp and Ginger Mongiello. Soprano Julie Greer will be singing.

Martha Shepp spoke about the origins of PianoTaos. "The short story is that after one of the Great Women Composers concerts that Claire Detels organized, many of us had such fun playing our various pieces that it was suggested that we create a club of sorts for playing to each other, along with socializing, education and support. We've been meeting every first Wednesday since then, weather permitting, at one another's homes. Most of us like to perform, but one need not be a performer to join us. PianoTaos is open to everyone with a love of piano, no matter the skill level."

Shepp found a piece to suit this year's theme perfectly. "I had been listening to Olivier Messiaen recently, and discovered he wrote a song cycle entitled 'Of Heaven and Earth.' ... His spirituality was directly transferred into his composing -- certain key signatures and notes represent very specific ideas to him. These pieces are challenging to perform and listen to, but we hope the audience finds them as deep and haunting as soprano Julie Greer and I do."

Said pianist Claire Detels, "The piece I'm playing is by 20th-century composer Charles Ives, who is known for experimentation and effort to get beyond what he considered pretty appearances into real substance. The 'Concord Sonata' has four movements with titles of different New England Transcendentalist writers, who were all deeply into the eternal questions of life: Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau and, in the movement I will play, the Alcotts. Hymn tunes, oddly voiced, suggest the nightly gatherings around the old out-of-tune piano with missing keys; an Irish-style folk melody suggests daily life ... the result, like a lot of Ives' music, is uncanny and deeply expressive."

Artist Ginger Mongiello will be playing original music. "While I have studied and practiced classical music my whole life, I now focus on inventing music, in the moment, as improvisation," she said. "My piece for this is called 'Scintillae,' and will be a process of imagining and playing the experience of darkness of earth matter, shot through with light. As in sparks in the dark."

Martha Grossman chose a composition by William Grant Still. "He was an important African American 20th-century composer. His work is usually grounded in spirituality. Music often is helpful in accessing a spiritual place, and I feel the piece titled 'Out of the Silence' does just this. To me the piece seems like silence set to music. To borrow a song title from Simon and Garfunkel, I consider this composition a 'sound of silence.'"

Grossman continued, "We are so happy to present this free concert at the Fechin House in connection with the Taos Fall Arts Festival. Each pianist selected her piece with the festival's theme in mind. Before playing, she will briefly tell how the piece relates to the theme. It may be more like heaven, or more like Earth, or a combination of both. It is a chance for PianoTaos to give a gift to the community. Because the concert contains more contemporary music, the audience may learn something from works less frequently performed."

Admission to the concert is free of charge. Visit for more information.


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