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Article Title: Andy Chritiansen Dusts Off the Archives of the Adamant Music SchoolEdition: June 2001
Author: Michael Arnowitt
Over the last four years, the East Montpelier resident Andy Christiansen has worked to collect and preserve the history of the Adamant Music School, and the colorful cast of characters that Christiansen has researched bring to life what Vermont and the nation was like in the early part of the twentieth century.
Although the Adamant Music School, a summer program for pianists located in the village of Adamant -- which straddles the East Montpelier/Calais line -- was established in 1942, the archive has material on the history of the founders' childhoods that date back to the late 1800's. Two years ago, Christiansen began to write unusual articles for the school's quarterly newsletter, each covering a four-year span in history. For this series, Christiansen adopted the writing style of one of the school's Vermont founders, Alice Mary Kimball of Cabot.
Exposure as a childAndy Christiansen grew up on the family farm in East Montpelier. His initial contact with the Adamant Music School came at age 11, when he attended one of the school's concerts. He studied piano there for the first time in the summer of 1968. His teacher that year was June Morse, who is still active today as a well-regarded local piano teacher and accompanist.
Christiansen's interest in history was kindled at an early age. He remembers "bartering" farm goodies such as raspberries or corn in exchange for Kimball's intriguing stories about what life was like a hundred years ago. He would take a tape player over to Adamant to record these oral histories after the summer session was over, but before Kimball and others would return to New York City in the fall.
"During my high school years at Montpelier High School (these were the days before U-32), my primary teacher [at the music school] was Emma Dressler," Christiansen says. "She was quite a character. Teachers at Adamant stressed the musical line, and I guess my line wasn't so good. I remember she would slap my back with one hand and the sheet music with the other, she was so excited. The music disintegrated into little pieces, which flew through the air and settled into the piano."
After his student-age sessions thirty years ago, Christiansen went back as an adult five more times, most recently in 1997. In his life he has been a piano teacher, and a state legislator (ten years in the Vermont House from 1986 to 1996). He currently he runs a website design business.
In 1992, he studied with Freda Rosenblatt, who has been associated with the school since its inception in 1942. Rosenblatt is currently 101 years old and still teaches piano in New York City, although because of a stroke she no longer comes up to Adamant. Rosenblatt was well-known for being skilled with students experiencing physical problems. Edwine Behre (a founder of the Adamant Music School), Rosenblatt, and Abby Whiteside, Leonard Bernstein's teacher, were among the first to research this area of piano pedagogy that Rosenblatt called "physio-rhythmics."
The Adamant Music School had three primary founders: Behre, who was a pianist from Atlanta; Vermont's Kimball, and Kimball's husband Harry Godfrey, from Kansas City. It was Kimball's sister Florence who told Behre of a run-down parsonage in Adamant. The renovation of this building was the beginning of the music school.
Digging out Bits of HistoryChristiansen particularly enjoys the tidbits he has found in the archive about central Vermont's own local history. Kimball's father, Alfonso Kimball, for example, was considered a town eccentric in Cabot. Christiansen says that "they would travel to Montpelier by horse, and it would take all day. But it wasn't the horse's fault! Alfonso liked to visit that way," stopping at many points along the route to chat with people. When Alfonso, a Marxist, died, churches in the area were reluctant to bury him.
Alice Mary Kimball began a writing career at age ten. Her first published piece was printed on the front page of the Hardwick Gazette in 1896, a little paragraph on the beauty of the Earth. Kimball wrote later, "It made me wildly excited and happy. I went dancing around, waving the newspaper and showing it. My mother's ironical comment: 'Evidently the secret of happiness has been discovered.'"
Kimball later wrote for the Kansas City Star and was a prominent organizer in the large Kansas City streetcar workers' strike of 1919. The Adamant Music School archives also hold stories about the art and music personalities of the time. After Edwine Behre moved to New York City, she became close friends with a number of great twentieth century artists, including Isadora Duncan, the pioneer of modern dance who was the first dancer to appear on stage without tights. Behre also knew the artist Edward Hopper, who used to paint in her apartment. Harry Godfrey, Kimball's husband, was a friend of Ernest Hemingway, who dubbed Godfrey "the pensive Hebrew."
Behre also met many prominent musicians of the turn of the century. She studied with the Vienna-based Theodor Leschetizky, one of the most celebrated piano teachers of all time. One of Leschetizky's best-known students was the virtuoso pianist Ignacy Paderewski, who later became the Prime Minister of Poland after World War I. Paderewski often stayed at Behre's parents' home when visiting the United States. Behre was also a friend of Paul Wittgenstein, a concert pianist who lost his right hand in World War I, inspiring many great composers such as Ravel and Prokofiev to write concertos for him for the left-hand alone.
Christiansen says one striking element of the school was its "sense of cooperation, not competition. It was run sort of like a socialist commune." To emphasize the ideal of equality, Behre refused to be titled Doctor, all students and faculty lived in the same building and shared the chores. "There was one social class, no stratification or hierarchy," says Christiansen, adding that although Behre was a charismatic leader, "she did her chores, too."
In recent years, Christiansen has developed a website (htpp://www.adamant.org) for the school and eventually hopes to have the archive available on the Internet. He anticipates the material should be of special relevance to those interested in feminist and labor history. It will take another two to three years of work, Christiansen predicts, before all the photos, writings, oral histories and other artifacts of what he sees as "a fascinating history" are fully organized.
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