The Asheville Area Piano Forum celebrates music education and Paul Thorpe at its Fall Benefit Concert at Diana Wortham Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 3 p.m.
The Asheville Area Piano Forum celebrates music education and Paul Thorpe at its Fall Benefit concert
Classical music carries memory. Each live performance is historical and immediate at once. Felix Mendelssohn's “Rondo Capriccioso” bears some vestige of the composer's life in 1820s Germany: his early forays into conducting Bach, his acquaintance with Goethe, his unfulfilled courtship of the pianist Delphine von Schauroth, to whom he gave the score as a gift.
When Hwa-Jin Kim performs the piece at the Asheville Area Piano Forum's 12th annual Fall Benefit concert on Sunday, Sept. 23, the spirit of the past will remain while listeners experience a singular, living version in the present and contribute to the cause of musical perpetuity. The annual event is AAPF’s primary fundraiser.
“Every year, we support kids who need help paying for piano lessons,” says Judith Rodwell, a teacher and AAPF member. “These are students who might not be able to continue without support.” AAPF has committed to raising $10,500 — its largest contribution yet — for music-instruction assistance, Rodwell says.
AAPF, a consortium of pianists, instructors and other musicians, is now in its 20th year. It began with nine people in 1992 and has since burgeoned to dozens of musicians, composers and performers who teach private lessons, conduct classes and play throughout Western North Carolina. A new program, Keys for Kidz, provides group piano classes for significantly underfunded younger students. Participants in the program will perform during intermission.
The organization also sponsors a yearly piano competition, the winner of which performs at the annual benefit concert. This year's winner, Christ School student Chamber Loomis, will play Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor.
Eighteen professional musicians, including AAPF members and guests, have volunteered their time to perform. Daniel Weiser (of local chamber ensemble AmiciMusic) and David Troy Francis will perform a piano duo on two facing Steinway grands, which is possible through another collaboration — with the Asheville Chamber Music Series. ACMS, which begins its 60th season on Friday, Sept. 21, recently concluded a long campaign to raise $50,000 for a new Steinway. “This is a big deal,” Rodwell says of the instrument loan. “They were so committed to helping raise funds for student assistance, so we're very grateful.”
Remembrance is another significant part of the concert. This year’s event honors Paul Thorpe, an AAPF board member and celebrated music instructor who died last December in an accident while working at his Montford home. Rodwell explains that Thorpe's death was devastating to those who knew him in Asheville and in Longmont, Colo., where he was band director for Skyline High School.
“There are few people in this world that give as Paul did,” Rodwell says. “He was, quite simply, the best cheerleader a friend could have. He believed in his friends before his friends believed in themselves. We all depended on his wonderful hugs and nurturing and he is sorely missed.”
Amy Rae Stupka a vocal instructor at AMS and longtime close friend of Thorpe's, remembers him with similar affection. “He really was an angel,” she says. “I never heard him say a single unkind word. He had such high [musical] standards and such integrity — but at the same time he was light-hearted. It's unusual, I think, to have someone who is perfectionistic but also light-hearted and just warm and loving like a favorite uncle.”
Rae Stupka is now the director of AMS in Thorpe's stead, a role she accepted with some misgiving. “I didn't want to try to fill his shoes,” she says. “But, everyone kept talking to me about things and someone had to start making decisions, so here I am.” Thorpe's gentle leadership style continues to guide Rae Stupka at the school. “Paul was an amazing mentor and supervisor; he brought out the best in us.”
Thorpe's life and place in the community are integral to the benefit concert, in several material ways. “We had a lot of memorial funds and those, plus other donations, became a foundation for being to able to produce this concert,” Rodwell says.
In addition to piano, organ and guitar, “Paul was a low-brass specialist,” Rodwell says. In honor of Thorpe's specialty, bass trombonist Fletcher Peacock and pianist Virginia McKnight will perform Sonata for Bass Trombone and Piano by contemporary American composer David Gillingham.
Rodwell and her husband, Robert, commissioned Marion-based composer and board member Nathan Shirley to produce an original piece, Ballade No. 3, “Transfiguration,” in tribute to Thorpe. “It was difficult to begin the piece, and I played around with different ideas for a while,” Shirley says. “But then … an idea struck me and I immediately knew that it was the beginning of the piece for Paul. The main theme captures something about Paul — I don't know exactly what. That melody keeps reoccurring throughout the piece and gets transformed and transfigured by the end. It represents Paul going through a transfiguration, into the spiritual.”
Classical music in general may be considered something of a legacy art, but the AAPF remains vital and continues to grow. “Our organization has grown by about 15 percent in the last year, a rarity for arts organizations,” Judith says. “We have young pianists and teachers joining us — which makes all us oldie goldies happy.”
For more information about AAPF and the Fall Benefit concert, visit http://www.aapf.ws.
Jaye Bartell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Asheville Area Piano Forum
what: Fall benefit concert, in memory of Paul Thorpe
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Sunday, Sept. 23 (3 p.m. $28 general admission, $50 patron, $3 student and free for ages 12 and younger. More at aapf.ws)