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November 2013
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Making Space for Music

PianoForte Studios

PianoForte Studios

These days music-lovers have to have a thick skin. Whether it’s news of musician lock-outs or the greying of the audience, pessimism is rampant. People have been predicting the demise of classical music for more than a generation. Kirill Gerstein, who played the Prokofiev Second with the CSO last week, lamented that if we want to blame the computer, the TV or the video console for distracting people away from music, we’re too late. He points out that it was the radio that replaced the piano in the living room.

What to do? How about bringing music back to the home? That’s the philosophy of Thomas Zoells, Executive Director of PianoForte Chicago—full disclosure, he does sell pianos—but he also donates them, offers scholarships for piano lessons, hosts an amateur piano competition, and a number of free concerts.

Practicing and performing music, attending concerts, listening to music (in defense of the radio)—each of these things touches our brains in slightly different ways. They foster community and togetherness, while building skills, and sharpening the mind; they make people feel good. Community and togetherness are not things generally associated with use of computers and video games.

The good news is, Thomas Zoells is in expansion mode. His company, with its new facility, barely a week old, is bustling.

At 10:00 PM tonight, WFMT brings you our first broadcast recorded in the new space with violist Michael Hall, and pianist Yu-Sui Hung playing works by Paul Hindemith and Rebecca Clarke.

Lisa Flynn spoke with Thomas Zoells about the space, PianoForte Studios:

  • Ruth Brannigan

    We should all contribute to the Hallelujah Chorus that Lin Manuel Miranda’s creativity and incredible mind were nurtured in a rich environment. As a teacher, I do my best working with children on all levels. It is my life’s work and, in part, why I’m on this planet.
    My personal salvation was multi-tiered. I had the right parents, a great active neighborhood bursting with ragamuffins like me. My mom made sure of the everyday. My dad was in charge of the long shots. They both brought in their fair share of miracles.
    One of those miracles was sending me to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Young Peoples’ Concerts Series every year. I was privileged to hear and see close-hand the best musicians conducted by world renown giants of classical music. William Steinberg lead the charge. He had been a protégé of Otto Klemperer (father of Werner Klemperer of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame) before fleeing Hitler.
    Concurrently, he directed the Boston Symphony while conducting Pittsburgh’s symphony. Incredible. He paved the way for Leonard Bernstein to host several of our concerts. Next was Andre Previn. another great talent. He was followed by Lorin Maazel.
    You would think that I would have studied music, but no. I enjoy it along with other types of music including rap and hip-hop. Love it all. The other gifts bestowed are many. The varied cultures. The stories. The education.
    None of this would have been possible without the guidance and exasperated love from the Sisters of Mercy for walking with us to the concert hall. They made us elite concert goers. Our hair was combed. Our hands and face washed. Our attention and courtesy….whether we felt like it or not at the time. lol
    We understood what we had was unusually lofty and more than many would receive. I treasure it, as you can see and wish it for every ragamuffin.

  • Hill View

    every year i tell my republican senator that if my school did not have theatre and art and music, I would have only been a druggie . every year I remind him.

  • Armygirl35

    I was in school before they started cutting all the Arts. Now I am in college, after serving in the Military, and a Theatre Major. Upon graduation and meeting the requirements for the Alternative Licensing in my state, I will become a Theatre/Drama Lit teacher for K-12.

  • Bernadette Walsh

    Our theatre is UpStage Players, now in its 23rd year of bringing the performing arts to children ages 7 to 15 with a no cut policy. No one takes a salary we all volunteer. We know what a theatre experience means to a young performer or audience member. We take the children to the theatre to learn to be a good audience. Funding is a variety of methods but we make it work. This year we are doing Fiddler On The Roof, Jr. We started in 1995 with Camelot – the kids from Camelot are now bringing back their children to perform, it makes you smile WE LOVE THEATRE. Check out our web page

  • Julia

    I’m currently a 12th grade student in high school. To put it simply when people ask me what my career options are or what I’m gonna do post secondary my answer is usually “I’m an arts kid” that’s all they really need to know. Since we dont have much funding in the arts programs I try my damndest to make the best of what we have. Ok…. well we do get funding but 90% of it goes to the rep music program. Almost none goes to the performing arts. At my school we don’t put on musicals because we don’t have the resources to put one on. Hell, we barely have a stage. (It’s basically a few flat black boxes on the floor). This is the first year we have actually had curtains. But like I said I and everybody else make the best of it because we have such passion for it. We put on two shows a year. There always about two hour long shoes composed of a few different short plays with some dancing and singing in between. We put so much work into it. We use already existing plays and songs as well as student written ones. It’s all a work of us students with help of our schools drama teacher. I feel that doing this has really changed my life. Much like what lin said in his article I know that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I liked being challanged to make the best of it. I hope I take these skills and this passion into the future.

  • lwwarfel

    Even though I’m not an arts professional, I so appreciate the loving care of my piano/organ teacher, Mrs. Walston; my creative writing teacher, Miss Dranginis; and my public speaking teacher, Mrs. Usher for instilling in me a love for the beauty of words and music. Serves my soul well every day!

  • Gloria Wisby Goodwin

    I am a theatre teacher at a small college. This article is so inspirational. It saved my life as well. Bravo!

  • Sara Pohl

    In my small home town, sports are king. Growing up I naturally joined softball, the only sport for girls in summer, and hated it. However, I thought that is what I “had” to do. In late July, I happened to stumble into the Lion, Tinman, Scarcrow, and Dorothy at the local 7-11. Dorothy was a girl from my class and I asked why she was dressed as she was. They were in a local summer theatre group I had never heard of. I couldn’t join that year, but I waited it out and joined the next summer. It was after that I found “my tribe”. We weren’t the most popular, but we were crazy and smart and free to be anything we wanted. I haven’t stopped since.

  • Jill Garland

    Robert Nation and Barbara Hall. High School. We learned about teamwork, deadlines, history, Shakespeare, math. Being in the theater and dance depts meant learning how to manage your time, take responsibility, and watch your fellow performers’ back. I’ve been lucky to enjoy a career in the arts, but even if I hadn’t I still would have walked away a better student and person. Not all of us had the talent of a Lin-Manuel Miranda, but these lessons learned so early informed our lives in the most positive ways.

  • Prilla

    Would you believe I was an arts kid and never knew it…but, the universe has a way of correcting that. Fast forward: I am in retirement from public education and all of a sudden there is an opening at the Denver School of the Arts on the academic side of things. It took some years but I found my kids and my peeps! I have such an appreciation for the creative side of things— I just didn’t know how much. Even though I retired again, I get to help ALL kids find the right college for themselves, including the right BFA or BM or BA programs for budding artists, upcoming politicians, future doctors, bankers et. al.

    And, I love Lin’s energy, brain, and of course, the universe one more time blessed me with tickets to Hamilton at a “normal” price. Next wish: to someday have a 5 minute conversation with Mr. Lin Hamilton!