SUMMERKEYS – ITS  HISTORY AND  BEGINNINGS

In the 1960’s, living in Manhattan,  I worked the night-shift in record stores and practiced by day, having the good fortune to be studying with Sascha Gorodnitzki. The jobs were sort of fun until the “drug scene” hit and we began spending as much time pursuing non-paying (but high-volume!) customers as we did those who still chose to pay. On our two-week vacations, I’d seek out some idyllic place where I could both swim and practice; the first being a friend’s summer home in Pawling, NY with a swimming pool and a small grand, which I sub-let for a few summers. But the most fun was my discovery of the West Barnstable Conservatory (a Community Music School, still functioning) on Cape Cod. I’d take the bus to Hyannis, check into a motel, rent a bike and pedal over to the school where they rented me a piano for four hours daily – then back to the motel for a swim – Bliss!

In the 70’s I began teaching at The Henry St Settlement Music School in Manhattan (on a busy schedule) and took another position at The Amherst Summer Music Centre, near Lake Sebago, in Raymond, Maine. There I had an equally busy schedule both teaching and accompanying  a bunch of talented kids, but we had our own huge, crystal-clear Panther Pond, acres of lovely rolling lawns and a white sand beach – Bliss again!

Meanwhile, I’d been living in a huge factory space (later, they became known as “lofts”) on the second floor of a building just off Fifth Ave. at 19th St. This place was broken into so many times I lost count, and the quiet neighborhood I’d chosen became raucous, so I got the brazen idea of looking for a house to re-hab. HUD was then giving out a booklet describing all the cheap “brownstone” areas in and around NYC, and I walked miles and miles through Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Hoboken, and finally Jersey City, where I spotted an area called “Paulus Hook”, full of dilapidated buildings but surrounded by NY harbor, with that fabulous light that reflects from large bodies of water. There, $19,500 bought me a 25-ft. wide, four-storey brownstone, overlooking the harbor from every window, toward which HUD offered me a 3% mortgage on the condition that I fully restore the structure. Then, to top things off, my mother offered to contribute the down-payment!  She had been born and brought up in Jersey City, near its “fashionable” central section, whereas my new-found neighborhood was considered a “slum”, despite its being directly across from the original World Trade Center and three blocks from the “Jersey subway” – I was in NYC from my house in ten minutes – bliss yet again!!

Mom was a person whose life got “torpedo-ed” several times, but she always managed to climb from the wreckage to the life-raft and back to a new and better boat. These years found her just retiring from her job as assistant to the President of a large Wall St. firm, so she was delighted to see me moving into an area near to her.

Living in this building was a dream come true and other “gentrifiers” soon followed me there; but the attendant nightmares were the endless re-hab (we had now become an “Historic District”, so every detail had to be “accurate”), the renting and managing of apartments so I could afford to keep it, the taxes, the insurance! By 1990, I’d spent a summer in the hospital, recovering from an assault and attempted robbery in front of that very house, we were embroiled in the “Gulf war”, my new place was rivaling NYC for noise, my mother’s health was declining badly, and the Maine music camp had shut down. So it was that summer when I joined a group of friends on what was to be for them a “dynamite fishing trip”, and for me a nostalgic  return to Maine, the state I’d loved for many pervious summers

We flew into Portland (which I’d remembered as a “sleepy” town), intending to tour that city, rent a car, and begin our journey up the coast the following morning – turned out that

Portland was no longer at all “sleepy” – by 7 PM, there wasn’t a room left in town and we had to drive 300 miles north for a bed, thus beginning our adventure in Bucksport, and missing all those “charming” coastal villages which should have been its first half.

Towns I’d never heard of became our destinations: Belfast, Ellsworth, Milbridge, Cherryfield  and Machias, with its “Blueberry Festival”, which was to change my life: there, as my friends frolicked through the various attractions, I bagan to notice the ads in Realtor’s windows featuring a nearby town called “Lubec”, where lovely houses were shown, but selling at the price of used cars! We’d not intended to stop there, but I prevailed, since it would give us access to Campobello Island (a part of Canada) and a ferry-ride to Calais, Maine where we could turn onto Route 9 and begin fishing in the myriad lakes surrounding it as we returned south.

Even arriving in Lubec was breathtaking, as  blue vistas of bays, islands, boats, etc. began opening up on all sides; and the village itself was so tiny: up one side of a big hill, then down the other – and there’s the bridge to Canada! The main street looked shockingly  like the set for a 1940’s low-budget  western, with boarded-up shop fronts, nobody much around, but as we drove around, the town was a mixture of lovely old Victorians, fishing shacks and sleepy old churches. I was enraptured with everything about it, but my companions couldn’t wait to leave.

The rest of our trip, though restful and beautiful did nothing to erase the image of the lovely small village we’d seen. So after our return home, I contacted a Lubec realtor, got a list of homes for sale and pored over it. And at this very time, a distant relative, who had helped me get the Steinway I now owned, passed away and left me a tiny inheritance; probably, I thought, enough for a down payment in Maine.  I returned there the following March, to be greeted by sun and what seemed an early spring – and scared myself silly by signing a contract on a hillside house looking out over the bay!

After all the rigamarole of the closing, the endless signings of another mortgage, etc.,  I returned to Jersey and in July of the following summer I finally spent two weeks in my new Lubec paradise, accompanied by an old college friend. It seems I had not noticed the eleven hours it took to drive there? And after the first night (enlivened by a terrifying thunderstorm) I woke up thinking, “What have I DONE?!” But as I opened the front door to a cloudless sky over the open expanse of ocean, what I saw was NOT a TV ad for American Express, but an actual, live bald eagle, fairly common there,  soaring across my view. Then (and only then) it occurred to me that my ideas of “bliss” might well resonate with other pianists and students and this could become a place where I could again teach during the summer, with students staying in nearby B&B’s or motels. The roars of laughter elicited by this idea locally were matched only by those I told about it back home – a particular exception being my mother – the depression brought on by her illness seeming to brighten at the pictures I showed her. She herself then wanted to help out and I was lucky enough to have completed two successful summers there so that she could also revel in the beginning of what was to become this great adventure, before she passes away during the Winter Holidays in 1984. She left me a bequest, and I knew it mustn’t be “wasted”, so I used it to buy the large Yamaha grand that allowed us to begin the concert series, hoping this would be a way for a lady who’d been “torpedo’ed” to be remembered instead!

And here, rather than go through more of the program’s story, I’d like to refer you to a book by the brilliant pianist Byron Janis; it’s called Chopin and Beyond (John Wiley & sons, 2010) and the reason for my referral is his reference to “synchronicity”, a term I’d never encountered before, and his experiences with this. As you’ll read on Wikipedia, this term was first explained and given credence by psychiatrist Carl Jung, who wrote much about it (around 1920) as a term describing events which are connected not so much causally, but rather by their meaning. The SummerKeys program has been buoyed up and bolstered over and over again by things it might seem could never have happened, but indeed they did; so I will close by listing just some of them here:

  • Just after I formulated the possibility of SummerKeys, I sent a “press release” to every major newspaper on the East Coast. A travel Editor at the Washington Post picked up on it with a small blurb on the front page of the Sunday Travel section, resulting in over 400 phone calls.
  • The summer before we opened, I bought a small ship painting at a thrift shop, even though it seemed old and grimy, it was only $3.75; short-long story: Sotheby’s sold it for $6500.00, enabling me to turn the small back barn into two practice sheds and purchase three usable pianos (remember, this was 1991).
  • Without my asking, a local business woman nominated SK for the Governor’s Award for Tourism, which we did receive about eight yeards ago.
  • In 2012, local businesses and B&B owners teamed up to give us a handsome monetary twentieth birthday gift!
  • And the list goes on! Serendipity? Synchronicity?