I used to go to my grandparents' house all the time and play the piano – the 1929 Steinway – that was my grandmother's piano. She knew how much I loved the piano and understood its place in history, so she bequeathed it to me when she died.
My grandmother, Rosalyn Elkan, was an opera major at Indiana State and moved to Macon, Georgia upon her marriage to my grandfather. For more than three quarters of a century, she was the unquestioned Grand Dame of classical music in Macon.
She received the piano as a wedding present from her father-in-law, Eli Elkan in 1929.
When she arrived in Macon, it was a relative backwater. In 1937, she founded the Macon Concert Association, and she started presenting concerts at Wesleyan Conservatory (incidentally, the oldest women's college in the country). In addition to her work with the Concert Association, she also was in charge of the auditions for the Metropolitan Opera in Atlanta every year. Eventually, she ended up on the national board of the Metropolitan Opera in NY.
Through the years, she became very friendly with all the classical music and opera stars of her era. Back in those days, these artists would travel by train or car. They would play in Atlanta and then she would convince them they should play Macon as they headed to Florida and elsewhere.
She attracted to the stage in her town, names that were ordinarily way too big for Macon, but her connections got them there. Most of them would stay at her house. If they stayed in a local hotel, at the very least, she would have a reception for the artist in her home. Over the years, the list of visitors to her home included every major Metropolitan Opera and classical
star including Robert Merrill, Claudio Arrau, Marilyn Horne, Roberta Peters, Jerome Hines, Artur Rubenstein, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Richard Tucker, Emanuel Ax, as well as conductors like Robert Shaw and Arthur Fiedler.
I met many of these artists and in fact I came upon Arthur Fiedler in her kitchen one day – eating sardines out of a can. I also watched a Yankees game with Emanuel Ax in her bedroom. Jerome Hines wrote an opera on this piano. He spent a couple of weeks sequestered in Macon, writing the piece.
Many of these artists signed the pin block of the piano.
Yet others signed performance programs for me:
• Lenus Carlson, baritone, with Linda Jones at the piano, 1976
• Van Cliburn, 1976
• Robert Shaw, conductor, with Lillian Kallir, pianist, 1968
• Arthur Gold & Robert Fizdale, pianists, 1969
• John Williams, August 2011
Last summer, Jerry Williams and his wife Shirley stayed with us at the inn for a week. His brother, the legendary John Williams, dropped in a couple of times to visit. On one of those occasions, he played the piano. Jerry recounted to John the many stories of the piano.
Jerry and I were in agreement that, without documentation, the legacy of this piano would be lost in a generation or two. For example, short of a signature on the pin block, there was no way of knowing that John Williams had played the piano. A week later, a letter arrived from John Williams, who also acknowledged the importance of documenting the legacy of the piano.
The Steinway is in perfect condition, and even more than a notable piano, it’s an important family heirloom. My grandmother left it to me, knowing that I would fully appreciate its importance and keep it maintained appropriately – and it will be passed down through generations with all of those names on the pin-block, names on the programs, and the documentation of its unique clientele.
In this forum I have a category called "Celebrity Guests." Well known musicians, television, stage or movie stars, etc. But increasingly, a growing set of "celebrities" are turning that phrase into something negative....and you know who I mean....rhymes with Dim, Dookie and Embarrass.
Additionally, we have recently hosted very well-known authors, novelists and playwrights here. People who would wince if I called them a celebrity...so let's start a new category called "Notable Guests" of Hampton Terrace.
And let's start with the most un-celebrity famous person I have ever met...Ann Beattie. She and her husband, Lincoln Perry, spent a couple of off-season, mid-week days here and we had a chance to converse over breakfast, enjoy a glass of wine in front of the fireplace, and generally spend some leisurely time. She was sincere, humble, self-effacing and as genuine a person as anyone I have ever met.
I cannot say I knew who she was. Not a reader of The New Yorker, or of fiction in general, I have to admit that my WOW occurred when Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mailbox the day after she left and there she was...her new novel Mrs. Nixon featured with a photo, half-page article and a B+. Then I Googled her. WOW again. The New York Times called The New Yorker Stories one of the "Top 10 Books of 2010."
Here is what I did know: When I checked her in and was giving her a tour around the inn's common rooms the subject of The University of Virginia came up....mainly because there is a portrait of Mr. Jefferson in my bar. Ann offered that she had been teaching English at UVa since the mid 70s (except for a stint at Harvard). And then she also said her husband, Lincoln, was teaching art at U.Va and was painting the mural in Cabell Hall. I was an art major at Virginia...so the bond was permanent by that point.
She does not typically do readings in places as small as Lenox, but she went to college with the Lenox Bookstore owner, Matt Tannenbaum, and Lenox ended up on her intinerary.
So....just like the time I asked Laura Linney at a picnic...."now, exactly what do you do?," I kind-of did the same with Ann. I asked her what she was reading that night.
She told me it was somewhat different from her usual fare....short stories and novels. This was a "faux" biography...or a historical fiction...or something else entirely. She did not really know what to call it.
She had the idea to write an autobiography of Pat Nixon...only because Nixon was among the very few modern first ladies who have never written a memoir. In other words, one could only imagine what Pat Nixon thought about her husband, Viet Nam, Watergate, or any number of important events she witnessed first-hand. So Ann Beattie decided to write it for her.
Of course, she first immersed herself in all things Pat Nixon, including checking out Life Magazine photos to see how she dressed and carried herself in public. She admits not to be much of a Richard Nixon fan....which would certainly lead to some interesting suppositions. I told her sincerely that THAT sounded like a book I would want to read.
And then, of course, I went to Google: The website Slate stated by 1980 Ann was "the most famous young fiction writer in America." She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in the 1990s and has won numerous top awards including the PEN/Malamud Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Creative Writing at U.Va. Her short stories have populated The New Yorker for decades and found themselves in several collections deemed the best of the century.
So not only am I proud that I was able to host Ann Beattie and Lincoln Perry (more on him in another Notable Guest blog) but she just wrote to me, "...will most certainly see you again and have already told friends about your lovely place - I reviewed it for that travel site and meant every word..."
We will see you soon, Ann.
Hampton Terrace was fortunate to be at the epicenter of a great event last month...Broadway in the Berkshires.
Produced as a fundraiser for Shakespeare & Company education programs by Lenox's Deborah Grausman, the evening featured a number of Broadway-associated actors who donated their time and talents. The evening raised over $60,000.
New York-based reviewer William Wolf captured the spirit of the evening. Pictured at left is Tony-winner and evening host, Chip Zion, and organizer/rpoducer Deborah Grausman.
We were priviledged to host several of the actors for the weekend, but in a larger capacity, Hampton Terrace served as the host of the "after-party" for the actors and major donors of the evening.
Approximately fifty people attended the after-party, which was highlighted by much spontaneous singing around the grand piano....with jazz pianist David Grausman showing his chops to keep up. If our piano could express joy, this would be an evening it would remember.
Hampton Terrace has been very fortunate to be associated with many such collaborations: a staged reading of a musical version of "Sense and Sensibility" which is under development.....and a production of David Black's "An Impossible Life." Both productions featured Tony-award level actors and were capped by receptions here at Hampton Terrace. Many of the actors stayed here during the production.
Susan and I are very honored to be able to meet and host such talented people. We hope our association continues many years into the future.
Photos by Kevin Sprague
Shakespeare and Company, located a mere block from Hampton Terrace attempts to program year-round to provide entertainment of the highest caliber to Berkshire visitors. For ticket information CLICK HERE.
Larry Murray, creator of the Berkshire on Stage website reviewed The Who's Tommy, which was produced from scratch in a week... for a mere two-week run at the Berkshires' Colonial Theater. I quote:
Last night there was a miracle – in more ways than one – on South Street in Pittsfield. The Who’s Tommy is the first production of the newly minted Berkshire Theatre Group and it was more than good, or great. It was heart-thumpingly fantastic. By the time the classic story of Peter Townshend’s deaf, dumb and blind boy had been told, the audience was up and out of its seats, whooping, hollering, dancing in the aisles with complete joy and abandon. In decades of seeing theatre, including the original Broadway version of Tommy, and its national road show company, I have never seen anything like this response before. My delight with the show was pretty unexpected too, as I found tears of joy suddenly streaming down my face.
My response was the same. Unlike Mr. Murray (who by definition sees every play produced in the Berkshires every year), I had never seen any version of Tommy. Okay...I did see the movie, nothing more than a progression of over-the-top star-cameos of the songs.
Pete Townshend has produced a miraculous work...which succeeds on many levels....offering every listener (yes, it was originally just a record) or audience member to project his or her own fears/insecurities/dreams/experiences and triumphs to the literally blank slate that is the boy, "Tommy." Or, having just read biographies of Eric Claption and each of the Beatles, Tommy could be the story arc of about any British invasion star. Or, as I ponder what life must appear like to my teenage twins and their friends: the better-than-average chance of being exposed to and damaged emotionally by family tragedy, bullying, sexual abuse, drugs, and/or other "challenges" thrown to "deaf, dumb and blind" minds. Like pinballs bouncing around the bumpers.
SO.... The genius of this production is that Director Eric Hill let the story tell itself. A collaboration with Pete Townshend himself.
How novel. Hollywood never met a book it didn't think it could improve (are you listening Steven Spielberg?)
Hill and his actors tell the story, as it was conceived, through the music....powerfully performed and masterfully staged and choreographed.
I think Larry Murray did a wonderful job with his review, so I won't go further.
I wish everyone I know could have shared this experience with me. Especially my high school friends. Back in the day we used to plug a turntable into a Fender Twin amp and listen to music the way it was created....volume turned to 10.
Photos by Christie Wright and Jaime Davidson
Our sons, Colin and Tristan Rosen, graduated from high school yesterday. Tanglewood is the venue for most of the high school graduations in the Berkshires. Beats the school auditorium.
For the graduates, standing on the stage at Tanglewood makes for an unforgettable experience. This is a quite brilliant gesture on Tanglewood's part, in that virtually all of these kids are heading somewhere outside of the area for college.
And why not send them off with a strong imprint of what makes the Berkshires special.
Our daughters both graduated from Lenox, and both ultimately moved back. Many of their friends did as well.
While teenagers, very few of them appreciated what the area had to offer. Lenox is "boring," they all would have told you. But their exposure to classical music at Tanglewood (local teens know how to slip under the hedge and hang in the maze during concerts), theater (Shakespeare & Company produces and directs Shakespeare classics in all of the schools), and art (student art shows are held in local galleries and mansions), et al, represents the subliminal placement of seedlings.
Ultimately, as adults, they will compare their quality of life with their memories of the Berkshires. Their biggest challenge, if they choose to move back, is finding a career.
A new initiative, 1Berkshire, is tackling the issue. A consolidation of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Creative Economy, and the Berkshire Economic Development Council, the new entity will attempt to create a fertile ground for new businesses, collaborations and relocations to the area. I serve on the steering committee of this exciting initiative, and do so having seen the challenges my daughters and their husbands encountered seeking career employment in the Berkshires.
Our sons are heading to Florida State in Tallahasee. Whether they come back to the area will depend on many unforseen factors, but hopefully a lack of good jobs will not keep them away.
Hours after we proclaimed that Hampton Terrace had been renovated and refreshed after the harsh winter, BLOG, the Internet god, sent us a tornado.
Yesterday we posted "Hampton Terrace's Spring Transformation," proudly proclaiming that we had left winter's destruction in the rear view mirror. Adding a punctuation to that, our yard service showed up in the afternoon to mow and trim.
So, of course, that could never be the end of the story.
Last night, while watching the Red Sox/Yankees, I saw a crawl appear stating that dangerous storms were heading toward the Berkshires. Okay....seen that before. About 8 pm, four guests showed up to check in and I noticed a drizzle as I told them to pull their cars into the back parking lot. I walked through the house and by the time I was walking down the back steps to meet them, the sky ripped open with driving winds, rain literally blowing sideways, and branches flying through the air.
I saw a branch fall on one of the cars that was entering the parking lot, denting the roof and breaking the windshield. Our largest, healthiest maple tree split with a mighty crack.....its largest branch falling into our side porch. Our pool furniture was flying into the water, lightning was crackling all around and, of course, the power went out. All, literally, in 60 seconds or less.
Above is a photo taken from Route 7 in Lenox, west from High Lawn Farm. This is no doubt the funnel that came through Lenox taking down trees and power lines.
By this time it was dark, so I had to show our guests their four rooms under the harsh glare of our emergency light. I lit candles in their rooms and sent them out to dinner, hoping the power was still going on Church Street. It was.
All total, we had six rooms booked last night and power did not come back until after midnight.
TODAY.....4 pm.......the sky has suddenly become black and the trees are leaning sideways again. We just turned on the Weather Channel and see there are 60 mph winds and quarter-size hail coming over Canaan, New York, right at us. Here we go again.
It is because less than 30 minutes ago I had the tree pictured above cut up and removed. "BLOG.....please state your demands, and we, your humble servants will comply...."
Got to admit it....winter 2011 tore us up. That's okay, because we have swung the pendulum the other direction with more upgrades at Hampton Terrace than we'd normally consider.
Let me start by thanking Scott, Wade, the two Bobs, Sean, Jose, Juan and Antonia. We have been at this for a dozen years, and we know we can depend on certain individuals, regardless of the circumstance.
Our front entry (masonry steps and circular porch ballustrade) is completely restored - looking as fresh as the day it was built in 1897.
All of our interior ceilings, doors and trims are newly painted and the foyer and three-story-stairwell will get a fresh coat of yellow this week.
The harsh winter demanded extra effort in the yard this spring, resulting in better defined pathways, more landscaping and new pool furniture.
Everyone who stays at Hampton Terrace receives an e-mail right after check-out asking for ways that we can improve their experience. This has resulted in numerous small tweaks and upgrades in every corner of the property. And we will continue to do that...knowing that satisfied guests are our best ambassadors.
Front entry photo courtesy of six-time repeat guest Greg Pignataro
There are something like six dozen inns and b&bs in the Berkshires. Two dozen in Lenox alone. About 10% have pools. It appears that many innkeepers feel a pool is unnecessary.
And unnecessary it is. Expensive to build, maintain and heat, I cannot say that our pool has added even one dollar to our bottom line......we tended to be full June through September regardless of whether swimming was, or was not an option.....which we added in 2005.
But I look at it this way. Just like exercise may not add quantity to life, but improves quality of life......our pool adds immeasurably to the guest experience here at Hampton Terrace.
Yesterday afternoon is an example. Although the pool was a luxurious 85 degrees, the afternoon was mid-70s and a bit breezy. No one went in the pool. But around 6 pm or so, there were six couples, sitting in the Adirondack chairs around the pool, enjoying wine and cheese, serenaded by our authentic rock waterfall.
Every couple who stays a weekend at Hampton Terrace from November until mid-June....also September....gets a $30 credit at Nejaimes in Lenox...an upscale wine/gourmet food shop. We also supply glasses, plates, openers, etc.
So the couples enjoying the ambiance around the pool in the early evening were doing so on our dime....a very happy group indeed.
Today is warmer, and I suspect people will actually be IN the pool today.
So to answer my own question...without a doubt, having a pool at a B&B in the Berkshires is worth it to our guests, and therefore to us. Not to mention that occasionally my gift to myself is a martini by the pool at the end of a long day.
We have a coffee-table-sized book in our living room which gets the most wear of any other. Co-written by our friend, Nini Gilder, "Houses of the Berkshires" is well-researched and packed with rare photos never before assembled in a narrative about the impact the Gilded Age crowd and their architects had on the local countryside.
We bought the book the week it was published, but due to the limited market for it, it was soon out of print.
But thankfully, a revised edition has been created and is on sale at TheBookLoft.com. Until June 11th, it is 20% off.
I completely recommend this book as required reading for anyone who loves the Berkshires.
The Great Estates and the clusters of mansions that line the streets of Lenox, Stockbridge and Great Barrington represent the well-spring of all that is cultural about our area.
The Tanglewood estate became the summer home of the Boston Symphony. Cranwell, Wheatleigh, Blantyre, Canyon Ranch, Eastover and Kripalu's property are all estates that have become resorts and spas. The local Stanford White-designed gambling house became the Berkshire Theatre Festival. The critical mass of culture attracted Norman Rockwell, Sterling Clark and the founders of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Ventfort Hall, The Mount, Chesterwood and Naumkeag have become historic house tours and museums. Elm Court hosts high-end weddings. Belvoir Terrace is a presigious arts camp. This list could go on and on.
So...who built these houses and why? What did they look like in their day?
First step....buy the book. Second step, plan a trip to Hampton Terrace and let us help you see every house you can. Since 1999, we have had 15,000 couples stay at Hampton Terrace and I assure you, they do not spend their days here staring at the walls. We send people out to sightsee and we have prepared lists to help them plan their stay. Want your list?