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  • Mon, September 17, 2018 3:11 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    by Mark N. Grant. The number of living people who actually knew Percy Grainger is shrinking every year. But former Grainger Board member Lucinda Hess, a pianist, and her brother Rick, a fine singer, still recall Percy and Ella vividly from their childhood visits in the 1950s to both 7 Cromwell Place and Ella’s Pevensey Bay house in England, as well as Percy’s many visits to their hometown, Cincinnati. (Rick and his wife Pat now live in Riverdale in the Bronx. Cindy lives in Putnam County. Her longtime partner, Edward Hogan, attended Grainger Board meetings with Cindy for years until his death in 1998.)

    Percy gravitated to the Midwest and in the 1930s played concerts with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. After the war he returned to perform not only with the CSO under Thor Johnson’s baton but with semi-professional chamber music groups in the city. One of his prize students was the fine pianist Dorothy Payne (1904-1992), with whom he sometimes rehearsed his two-piano works. Mrs. Payne was the piano guru of Cincinnati and the doyenne of the city’s amateur music groups Matinee Musicale, which took place at the Netherland Plaza Hotel in the middle of the day, and the Keyboard Club. Rick and Cindy Hess’s mother, Lucinda Robb Hess (1912-2005), was a fine pianist herself and a student of Dorothy Payne (as well as of Claudio Arrau and Robert Goldsand). Their father Elmer owned the Hess Blueprinting company in town and was a gifted amateur pianist who couldn’t read music but could play anything by ear.

    Rick remembers during his college years at Miami University of Ohio singing Ella’s composition Farewell to An Atoll (arranged by Percy) in Mrs. Payne’s living room with Percy in the audience; Percy warmly complimented Rick on his singing. Rick and Cindy also witnessed Ella performing on the Solovox during one of these concerts. “Percy was so patient; a lot of the pianists in the club weren’t the best musicians but he was very nice to everybody,” recalls Cindy. He was informal, she adds: “One time the pedals sort of fell down suddenly from the piano, and Percy stopped playing and got up and raced over to prop the pedals up with a book he found in the room.” Rick confirms that Percy was kind and patient. “I remember Percy accompanying the locals Pete and Louise Wilshire on the clarinet and violin. They were terrible!” he grins, adding “I also heard Percy late in life play his 4-hand arrangement of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with Mrs. Payne at the Women’s Club in Cincinnati. He must have missed half the notes!” But in earlier performances Rick says he found Percy’s energy and fire larger than life (and his accuracy better).

    Mrs. Hess met Ella through Mrs. Payne and thereafter she would visit 7 Cromwell Place every year in January or February. She must have met Elsie, Ella’s daughter from a previous liaison, too, because in 1953 or 1954 she insisted on taking Cindy and Rick during a trip to Europe to meet Elsie and her husband Robert Bristow at Ella’s cottage on Pevensey Bay, a seaside resort on the southeast coast of England. Teenagers at the time, Rick and Cindy were told that they were meeting Ella’s “ niece” (as Ella herself referred to Elsie). They visited only for the day, and remember Elsie and Robert as being lovely hosts, although they recall being told that Robert had recently gotten rid of a nice garden there and replaced it with stones. 

    Later in the 1950s Mrs. Hess brought Rick and Cindy to visit 7 Cromwell Place. During lunch on one visit, Ella opened a six-ounce bottle of coke and meted out four single glass servings to Mrs. Hess, Rick, Cindy, and Percy, admonishing Percy, “Don’t drink it all at once!” while she herself drank Vichy water. Another time, while Ella was chatting with Cindy on the front stairs to the porch, Cindy remembers “Percy suddenly appeared from behind after doing a pirouette over the top of the wood balustrade to the porch” – he was about 75 at the time– to which Ella quipped, “He’s showing off for you, young lady.” Indeed, Percy was still energetic; during one practice session in the music room at Cromwell Place, with Cindy and her mother at one piano and Percy at the other, he stopped suddenly, jumped up and crossed to the other piano and said, “You missed a note!” But on later visits, Percy increasingly looked “spaced out”: in the terminal phase of his cancer, they recall, he just stared a lot.

    Cindy also recalls that during those visits to Percy and Ella at Cromwell Place in the 50s, Burnett Cross, the physics teacher who worked with Percy on his Free Music machines, was there a lot of the time. “The Free Music machines took up the whole living room,” says Cindy now. She remembers that “Ella seemed very gracious and kind. She struck me as both elegant and delicate.”

    Another musical Cincinnatian who visited Percy at 7 Cromwell Place in the 50s was Ramona Helfer (1909-1972), who as “Ramona” was a popular jazz singer/pianist who appeared on radio and with the Paul Whiteman Band in the 1930s. (Her third husband was the well-known baseball broadcaster Al Helfer, whom Rick Hess met and remembers as being a huge bear of a man; Al sometimes stayed over at the Hess home in Cincinnati.) In the late 1950s Burnett Cross made several home recordings of Percy and other musicians playing the pianos in the Cromwell Place music room. Percy had recently seen the 1957 film The Bridge Over the River Kwai and made an arrangement for six hands at one piano of the film’s theme, the “Col. Bogey March.”  Here is a recording of a 7 Cromwell Place rehearsal of that piece played by Dorothy Payne, Ramona Helfer, and Ella, with Percy coaching the threesome in the background.

    Mrs. Payne and Mrs. Hess continued to visit Ella at 7 Cromwell Place for some years after Percy’s death in 1961. During one visit in the late 1960s, while they were sitting in Ella’s bedroom upstairs, Ella confided, “I’m in love!” She was referring to Stewart Manville, our late archivist/curator. Stewart and Ella got married in 1972.

    Postscript: Dorothy Payne wrote a memoir of her life and career that contains several chapters on Percy Grainger. It has recently been updated by her daughter, Rebecca Shockley and republished.

  • Mon, August 13, 2018 7:32 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    by Susan Colson.  Percy’s wheelbarrow is in the basement. Percy fashioned it himself to carry his music and instrument-laden trunks back and forth to the White Plains Trains Station. His concerts kept him coming and going at such odd hours that the White Plains station master eventually streamlined service by delivering a key to his very own storage closet where the wheelbarrow could stay until pressed back into service. Ray, whose family has owned the local Scarlet Deli for decades, remembers Percy running down the street with the wheelbarrow, which Ray termed a “rickshaw.” “Wiry little guy, polite, odd voice,” Ray, now well in his 70’s, remembers Percy, his customer and neighborhood eccentric.

    Although frequent, not all of Percy’s trips were pleasant. On the train returning to White Plains from Los Angles in the days after his mother’s death, Percy wrote a shaky, stream-of-consciousness letter to Balfour Gardiner, his friend and fellow student from the Hoch Conservatory. His wandering May 3, 1922 communique lists 33 items to be done “in case of a breakdown of my forces en route.” The letter instructs Gardiner to publish the “manuscripts, music, etc.” to be found “strewn around in the music room on pianos, in drawers and in the loft (attic) at White Plains.” The letter further notes “Could plot of ground (owned by me) next to White Plains home be used for building small fireproof Grainger Museum?”

    During the next decade, Percy would build such a museum in Melbourne, Australia. It would house the items Percy deemed important enough to classify, note, and send off to his homeland. Seven Cromwell Place would hold the things of his daily life, the things he describes as “strewn around.” It still does.

    Luckily, for those of us who provide tours, most visitors arrive with the idea of “a residence” well understood, they are not expecting Musée du Louvre. Although Percy has been gone nearly sixty years (and his wife, Ella, nearly forty) it is not a great stretch for visitors to imagine his life within these walls. Many who come, indeed most, are musicians. Take the case of pianist and recent visitor Jacob Rhodebeck, of Hastings-on-Hudson, who arrived together with his wife, mezzo-soprano Christine Free Rhodebeck and their little daughter, Vivienne, in tow.

    “Of course, I know Percy Grainger’s music, especially Gum Sucker’s March and Spoon River from my college days” noted Jacob, “it’s just that, until I saw the house on Trip Advisor, I had no idea he ever lived in White Plains.” Jacob reported that he was fascinated by Percy’s quirky homestead, with its three pianos filling the music room. The music room also holds a random boomerang beside a cherished 1906 postcard from Edvard Grieg. Both of these items sit directly under a lamp with the type of silk shade favored by his mother, Rose. Percy’s chin up bar is tied irreverently to the formal colonnade’s marking the entrance to the living room. The Rhodebeck family was impressed, it was clear that Percy lived, worked, and slept, here.

    During their visit, Jacob spent a few moments playing the Steinway (serial number 88,422 places its manufacture circa 1897) while Vivienne danced. This piano, which Percy was reputed to cherish for its “singing quality” Is always a point of fascination. Another recent visitor, Duncan Applby found playing the piano a highlight, as noted in his google review.

    So, here we are in White Plains, replicating Percy’s life and environs as authentically as possible, hoping to help visitors experience his home in a way that taps their senses and emotions. We grapple with how to make this more meaningful, more purposeful, visit by visit, visitor by visitor.

  • Sun, May 13, 2018 9:35 AM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    "To learn piano, study the Cyril Scott Sonata No.1," said Percy Grainger to the young piano student, who, after dutifully acquiring the sheet music, was completely mystified by Grainger's odd advice.  

    This incident and many more were shared by Grainger enthusiast Dana Perna on a recent Sunday afternoon at 7 Cromwell Place.  Grainger was acquainted with practically anyone who was anyone in the music world during his early 20th century career. His colleagues included Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, and Frederick Delius. Dana mentions them all, along with many others, during this engaging lecture. 

    Watch the video here.
  • Mon, May 07, 2018 6:23 AM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    In the early 20th century,  Percy Grainger wrote a virtuoso concert work entitled In Dahomey (Cakewalk Smasher), in which he blended tunes from Will Marion Cook's Broadway show and Arthur Pryor's popular song. Grainger may have seen Cook's In Dahomey on stage in London in 1903 and he started composing his work that year, completing the score about 1909.

    In this tribute to contemporary African-American music, the clash of the two tunes created what Grainger Society President Barry Ould has termed "a page of almost Iversian dissonance." After consulting with Barry, Petty Officer David Miller arranged In Dahomey and shared the final production with the Grainger world.  

    Here is a conversation about how it happened.

    See a list of David J. Miller's arrangements here

  • Wed, May 02, 2018 8:25 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    Watch the video here. 

    Long-time Grainger aficionado Mark Grant explains some of the piano techniques that Percy Grainger found particularly useful to develop his own style and maximize the use of the instrument.  For example, Grainger used large, extravagant chords, which he termed "harping chords" repeatedly and became a master of the sostenuto pedal (the middle piano petal) to translate the sounds of an orchestra into the piano.  

    Mark compares Grainger's playing to other pianists of his day and beyond.  His talk allows Grainger's techniques to come alive for the audience with examples, illustrations and explanations along the way. 

  • Wed, March 14, 2018 7:41 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    Click here to listen. 

    The British Library has made available about 350 English folk songs recorded by Percy Grainger in different regions of England between 1906 and 1909. 

    The sound recordings have been cataloged and indexed by librarian, researcher and folklorist Steve Roud, author of Folk Song in England (Faber & Faber, 2017). Roud has also matched them up with Grainger's transcriptions of the songs, where these exist, on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website, thanks to their digitization of the Percy Grainger Manuscript Collection. 

    Links have also been included on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website to corresponding sound recordings featured on British Library Sounds. Listeners are able to hear the songs while following Grainger’s unique transcriptions of recordings by singers.  Examples include folksingers: Joseph Taylor, Joseph Leaning, George Gouldthorpe, Charles Rosher, William Fishlock, Tom Roberts, Dean Robinson, and many more. 

    All recordings have been cataloged to include Roud numbers (this number refers to songs listed in the online databases Folk Song Index and Broadside Index), Grainger’s Melody numbers, and the numerical references to the discs and wax cylinders these sound recordings existed on previously. 

  • Sun, January 14, 2018 9:17 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    Listen here. 

    While he grew to hate performing Country Gardens, it is most certainly the song most identified with Grainger.  His 1919 performance is recorded on a piano roll for all to enjoy. 

  • Thu, September 21, 2017 8:39 PM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    Mark N. Grant and Susan Edwards Colson, IPGS Board Members, discuss the Percy Grainger Home, 7 Cromwell Place, with Marie Silverman Marich, from White Plains Beautification Foundation.  Marie's broadcast, This Blooming City, uses Percy Grainger's composition, Country Gardens, as its theme song.

    (Click on the image to hear the interview.)


  • Sat, August 19, 2017 9:09 AM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    Percy talks about collecting folk songs, plays, and talks about meeting Edvard Grieg. Interesting. 

  • Tue, May 30, 2017 9:16 AM | Susan Colson (Administrator)

    At the end of our evening on May 12, there was a wonderful discussion let by Robert Sherman.  Here is part of it:

7 Cromwell Place, White Plains, NY 10601


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The Percy Grainger Society's programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

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