How did Winter Harbor Music Festival find the remarkable piano which we share with the community at Oceanside Meadows Inn in Prospect Harbor, Maine?
An unusual constellation of circumstance and coincidence brought the late Edmund Battersby, Professor of Piano at the Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana and summer resident of Corea, Maine, together with a 1924 Steinway D concert grand that belonged to Bernice Silk, summer resident of Hulls Cove and co-founder of the New Jersey Chamber Music Society. It was her hope that the Steinway could be put to good use in Downeast Maine, and when her tuner, Neil Davis, told her that Harbor Music Festival, the Artur Balsam Ensemble Classes for Piano and Strings, needed a piano, and that Edmund Battersby would be playing it, that was all she needed to know. She told tuner that she wanted the instrument to be used in his work though unfortunately did not include this in her will and when she died the piano sat silently in her practice studio until one rainy day during the summer of 2011.
Edmund Battersby had deep roots in Downeast Maine, spending boyhood summers at Kneisel Hall, in Blue Hill, with his teachers Barbara Holmquest and Artur Balsam. Through the beneficence of Balsam’s widow the Artur Balsam Ensemble Classes were held to honor his teaching during July in Indiana under Professor Battersby’s direction for over a decade. In the summer of 2011 he brought the workshop to Oceanside Meadows Inn, with the support of the owners Sonja Sundarum and Ben Walter, renaming it Harbor Music with Deirdre McArdle as Executive director. “Summer festivals have always been about making music in beautiful places,” he would say and for him there was no place more beautiful than Maine. Funded by the IU Foundation since 1999, the Artur Balsam Ensemble Classes for Piano and Strings brings together talented student musicians from the Jacobs School of Music to coach with an internationally renowned artist faculty. Evening coaching sessions and a final concert were shared with the public. The enthusiasm generated by the high level of performance encouraged Professor Battersby to seek permanent relocation of the class from Indiana to Maine. Harbor Music leased a piano for the first season but with approval of the move by the university it was clear that an instrument had to be found. Neil Davis, from Sedgwick, who along with Frank Fisher, from Belfast, had facilitated the rental, spent the winter in search of a piano without much success. Pianos are a dime a dozen but a true gem of an instrument is extremely rare. Neil had not been in touch with the Silk family for several years and one day he decided to call her sons and see what had become of their mother’s piano. To his delight, it was still in Hulls Cove. Arrangements were made for Edmund Battersby to fly to Maine and try the piano. He was not aware of any of the history of the instrument. He did not know who the owner had been or that she had hoped that the piano would become part of her legacy as a pianist through him. All he knew was that it was a dreary, chilly day by Frenchman Bay and that he had travelled a long way from Bloomington, Indiana to try an old piano in an unheated studio.
Battersby’s first impression was visual. He noticed immediately that the keys were not plastic, as they have been for decades. “Ah…ivory….” he thought. As he sat at the piano and started to play he knew that he had stumbled upon a treasure from the golden age of Steinway and Sons, “a dream for any pianist,” a 1924 concert grand. Battersby had yearned to play one all of his life and in his five decades as a concert pianist he had never had the pleasure as they are extremely rare. Due to the generosity of the Silk family, who were happy to know their mother’s piano would be used by the community and offered it at a reasonable price, Winter Harbor Music Festival was able to purchase the piano which now resides in the concert hall at Oceanside Meadows Inn, available for use by the musical community in Downeast Maine.
Photo by: Evan Duning